I am unabashedly proud of what July 4th stood for 246 years ago. Mind you, I do love the fireworks and the parades and the flag-waving --- all of it! And I love the history of this momentous day. But, as we are gathered for family BBQs or enjoying a long holiday, I wonder how many Americans stop to consider what that first July 4th truly meant. Considering that in a poll I saw this morning, only 39% of Americans are proud of our nation, I would venture that it's of primary importance that we revisit exactly why this holiday should be celebrated by every citizen.
I want to share a small portion of President John Adams' Inaugural Address. Adams, along with his cousin, Samuel Adams, played important roles in the foundational government of our country, and it is their vision that we desperately need to preserve. Adams spoke these prophetic words at his inauguration in 1797: "In this dangerous crisis the people of America were not abandoned by their usual good sense, presence of mind, resolution, or integrity. Measures were pursued to concert [in cooperation] a plan to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty. The public disquisitions, discussions, and deliberations [which have been] issued in the present happy Constitution of Government".
We are definitely "in a dangerous crisis" in this country! And how I wish the people of America still possessed the good sense, presence of mind, resolution and integrity that those brave men undertook to declare their independence from a tyrannical government. It wasn't all sunshine and roses, however. Much like today, the inhabitants of the 13 colonies were divided regarding the road the nation was going down. And full support of the Declaration of Independence was not supported by all members of the Continental Congress. A representative of Congress rode horseback 80 miles to reach Philadelphia and break a tie in support of independence. In fact, the names of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were withheld from the public for more than six months to protect the signers. If independence had not been achieved, the treasonable act of the signers would have, by English law, resulted in their deaths. They believed that strongly in their bid for freedom! It's not difficult for me to see that we have taken our independence and liberties for granted!
And we cannot celebrate this day without acknowledging that the Declaration did not address liberty for all. In its opening paragraphs, the statement is made, "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". I want to make two points here: 1) For the first time in history, leaders of men recognized that "Nature's God" had given all men certain rights that could not be usurped by tyrannical governments. 2) I recognize that this seems hypocritical in light of the fact that many of the Southern Founding Fathers were slaveholders. The writings of the Founding Fathers show that many of them acknowledged that slavery violated the natural rights of the enslaved, but knew that the abolition of this abhorrent practice would need to take a back seat (for the time being) to the larger goal of securing the unity and independence of the United States from Britain. Sadly, they "kicked the can down the road" to be dealt with by a future generation; the reality was that the freedom of the nation needed to come before they could address the freedom of the slaves. That issue would be dealt with 84 years later when the new nation was ripped asunder by the Civil War. We have not been a perfect nation -- and we still aren't -- but it's exceedingly important, now more than ever, that we protect the vision and concept of this free nation! We have come so far in a relatively short time when you consider the entire history of the world!
So, what exactly was meant by "unalienable rights"? As I wrote in a February 9, 2013 post, I would venture to say that most Americans have a distorted idea of what "unalienable" means. I would further conclude that they think it takes its meaning from the word "alien", signifying that these "unalienable" rights were unfamiliar or foreign to men of that time. That is a wrong interpretation, and we actually mispronounce the word altogether. In 1776, when the Declaration was written, this word was not pronounced as un-alien-able; the correct enunciation was un-a-lien-able, as in "a lien", a form of security interest granted over an item of property to secure the payment of a debt. For instance, the bank holds a lien against your car, until the note is paid off.
What the Founding Fathers were actually saying was this: the natural rights that have been given to us by God are not subject to a lien by any king or ruler; they are ours to possess outright. In other words, our rights are not determined by governments; or granted by them; and cannot be legislated by them. It was the first time in the history of the world, that a nation of people dared to declare that they recognized God's rulership and authority as being above that of any monarch or crowned head. This was an important step in the evolution of a nation and of mankind. The Founders of our nation were declaring that they were ready to live their lives as free men, unencumbered by the heavy hand of an oppressive authority; that they wanted to live their lives according to the "Laws of Nature", which in the 18th century meant certain fundamental principles or moral standards that were apparent to everyone.
I ask you ... as a nation, are we still that people? Do we recognize the natural rights of ALL men? Are we willing to be governed by the fundamental principles and moral standards of the God of the Universe? Are we able to overcome the division that separated those original 13 colonies and which instigated the War Between the States? Oh, Lord, how I pray that we are still a people who resemble the ideals upon which this country took such a courageous leap! And if we aren't, what's to become of us? I recommend you consider that question with solemnity. You have a choice ... During this long weekend you can go back to your hamburgers and hot dogs, or laugh off my thoughts as inconsequential; OR you can do a serious study comparing who we were in 1776 and what we've become, and determine that it is worth fighting for and make the effort to teach your children its importance.
Those were days of far-reaching consequences; just as these days are. We are faced with no less a serious choice. Will we continue to labor under repressive directives from a governing body that pays no mind to our concerns? Or will we decide that our liberties are precious and worth standing up for? I contend that there is not much difference between the significance of that July 4th and this one. The only question is are we as brave and committed as they were? And believe me, the future of our children and nation -- and maybe even their survival -- depends on understanding the significance of July 4th and why it is worth celebrating.
Job 8:8-10 For inquire, please, of bygone ages, and consider what the fathers have searched out. For we are but of yesterday and know nothing, for our days on earth are a shadow. Will they not teach you and tell you and utter words out of their understanding?