Today is the 4th of July, or more often just "the 4th." The newspaper refers to it as "the 4th" in story after story about celebrations, beach parties, backyard barbecues, countless fireworks displays and endless parades. Only on the calendar is it called by its real name, Independence Day, the day on which we commemorate the birth of freedom in this country. On this day in history, July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved, signed by 56 members of the original Congress--about a month later according to historians. It contains one of the clearest and most forthright statements of basic human rights ever penned:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Yes, we are indeed a free country, arguably the most free on this Earth, with guaranteed rights that establish that freedom. A huge price was paid for freedom 235 years ago. Many the Founding Fathers ended up badly, broken men and in an early grave. We fought two World Wars to preserve that freedom, with horrendous loss of life. Even today our military is fighting and dying in Southwest Asia for something, I'm not sure what. I hope it is to defend our freedom but it's a little hard to tell. We also fought a terribly costly Civil War to preserve our Union, a tragedy out of which grew the powerful, prosperous and beautiful nation we live in today.
I fear that many fail to appreciate the miracle that is the United States of America and how fortunate we are to be living in this marvelous experiment in free society. For example, I walk around the neighborhood each morning. There was a time, sadly long ago, when on this day the whole block would be festooned with red, white and blue. Today, there were eight houses displaying the flag, four on permanent outdoor flagpoles, one (mine) permanently on a house-mounted pole and three others put up just for the day. That which we take for granted we are in danger of losing.
Some of that early freedom has been lost to a self-serving, elitist know-it-all government, at both the national and state levels. This is sad. We have surrendered it in exchange for protection and security. We ignore at our peril the words of historian Edward Gibbon, who wrote in his classic "Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire", referring to the city-state of Athens:
"In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again."
Freedom is a rare and precious possession. So few in this world have our freedom of action, enterprise, expression and worship. We live under a democratic form of government where our political leaders are answerable to us, despite the masters of spin at work in Washington and Madison. Complacency is our enemy, as Gibbon suggested. Freedom is not free; it requires constant attention, defense, effort and sacrifice. We are an independent society, where we are at least in part our own masters. However, today I fear that independence may be in jeopardy from a ruling class that thinks it knows best.
So, on this holiday, let us remember that its name is Independence Day, not to be lost in the smoke of fireworks and charcoal. The price of freedom is vigilance and independent thought. There are many who would create dependence and security in exchange for power over our lives. Let's not let that happen for, just like ancient Athens, it would mark the end of our precious and costly freedom.
Have a Happy 4th of July and remember Independence Day!