I Declare! What it took to declare our independence

Thursday, October 4, 2012

This essay was orginally written for the Joe Foss Institute Essay Contest, I Declare.

     The Founding Fathers valued liberty and justice more than life. They believed the purpose of government is to secure the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that whenever any government becomes destructive to these ends, the people have the right and responsibility to God and posterity to alter or abolish it. The Founders saw a long train of abuses of power, all designed to reduce them to despotism. They appealed to the Supreme Judge of the world, mutually pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, and fought for, died for, and built a better future for posterity.

     The signers of the Declaration of Independence were young men, except for Benjamin Franklin who assured his fellows, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Three of the signers were in their twenties and eighteen were still in their thirties. They had wives and children. If they would only avoid the threat of hanging, they certainly would have many more years to live. But what good would life do them if the sacred flame of liberty were extinguished within their hearts? They pledged their lives.

     Thomas Nelson Jr. offered a bounty to the first American gunner to hit his own home—the most prominent house in Yorktown—which, he was certain, was British headquarters. He ordered his own hard-earned wealth destroyed. Eleven of the signers were prosperous merchants; one owned the largest mercantile house in America. Twenty four were lawyers or jurists; others were doctors, career politicians, and a minister. Rather than continue to live ordinary lives, become richer, and enjoy a comfortable retirement, they pledged their fortunes.

     “Our declaration of Independence, I dare say, you have seen,” Abraham Clark wrote to a friend ten days after signing the Declaration, “a few weeks will probably determine our fate. Perfect freedom or absolute slavery….our fates are in the hands of an Almighty God.” Many contemporaries may not have viewed their “treason” as honorable, but the founders pledged their sacred honor, and they did not look back. No, Abraham Clark did not even look back when he heard a heavy knock on the door. A breathless messenger gave him a message from the British: they had captured two of his sons, and if he would renounce his signature on the Declaration of Independence, both would be freed. One son, Captain Thomas Clark, was held in a dungeon of the notorious prison ship Jersey. No food was given him except for the bread fellow prisoners managed to smuggle to him through a keyhole. Abraham Clark refused to compromise. For seven long years the founders fought for liberty. They struggled, they never looked back, and they won.

     What did it take to declare our independence? Independence of mind: the founders knew that eternal vigilance is the only way to preserve freedom. As Charleton Heston said, "If Americans believed in political correctness, we'd still be King George's boys--subjects bound to the British crown." If we would be free, our minds must be freed from conventional indifference. We must declare our independence with every heartbeat, with every thought, with every action, and with every jot and tittle we read or write. The founders protested the smallest infringements of liberty because they knew that a small infringement always leads to a larger one; as James Beck said, the Founding Fathers “waged a 7-year war in protest against a two penny tax on a pound of tea, because it involved a principle.” The founders took their responsibility to posterity seriously. They asked themselves, “What kind of inheritance will we hand down to future generations?”

They refused to pass on to their children a giant British debt incurred by wars. They refused to shackle their children as slaves to taxation without representation. They refused to leave to their children a country where justice was not executed and where the king had “erected a multitude of new offices, and sent swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” They would not leave to future generations a country where standing armies were kept in peacetime, unreasonable searches and seizures were conducted, and citizens were deprived of trial by jury. They had faith for a better future; they believed in a beautiful America where liberty and justice would prevail. They did the impossible; they declared independence from what was then the greatest nation on earth. They had an ideal; they stuck with their principles. Their ideal became a reality; it became the United States of America, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

     Today, are we proud of the inheritance we will pass on to future generations? Will we pass on to our children the great America, the beautiful America, the noble America that was passed on to us? Will we make the Founding Fathers proud? “Posterity,” wrote John Adams, “you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that ever I took half the pains to preserve it.” You, reader, are “posterity.” The spirit of 1776 must live within your heart. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed--else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.” You must protest the smallest infringement of liberty because the smallest infringement will always be precursor to a larger one.

     Thomas Jefferson gave three provisions for the preservation of liberty. First, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them…[The people] are the only sure reliance for the preservation of liberty.” Educate yourself in the works of the Founding Fathers. Study books such as Democracy in America (Tocqueville), The Law (Frederic Bastiat), and the works of Von Mises and Hayek. Share your love for liberty in essays, Facebook posts, letters to editors, blog posts, town hall meetings, and everyday conversations with friends and neighbors. Make your own personal declaration of independence: let the whole world know “I declare! I will preserve the principles of the Founding Fathers! I will pass on the torch of liberty to my friends, my family, and future generations!” For the preservation of liberty, pledge your life.

     Second, Jefferson said, “[The people] are our dependence for continued freedom. And to preserve their independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt…” You must set a good example by keeping your own budget balanced. Do not burden yourself with a large debt which will be difficult to repay. Debt is oppressive on a personal level; it can be even more oppressive on a national level. The British levied taxes on the colonies to pay the debts incurred during the French and Indian wars, and this taxation without representation drove the Founding Fathers to call for independence. We must not pass on a 15 trillion dollar debt to our children. As voters, we must support candidates who will substantially reduce the national debt, that “fore-horse of misery and oppression” (as Jefferson called it). Declare your independence from debt, pledge your fortunes; you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Third, "Can the liberties of a nation be sure when we remove their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people, that these liberties are a gift from God?” Jefferson asked. Without faith in God, we will quickly become disillusioned. People fail, governments fail, we fail, but God never fails. He is the One who gave us liberty, and it is His will that we preserve it. Without His help we can do nothing. Our future is the gift of God, and we can be confident when we place our future in His hands. As Abraham Clark said, “Our fates are in the hands of an Almighty God, to whom I can with pleasure confide my own; He can save us, or destroy us; His councils are fixed and cannot be disappointed, and all His designs will be accomplished.” We must declare independence from immoral inclinations and pledge our sacred honor to the work of God. If we follow where God leads us and if we do His will, we will never be disappointed.

     Today, as I see a giant and growing bureaucracy devouring our tax dollars and stifling the free market by enforcing numerous unnecessary regulations upon the American people, I realize more than ever that we need an awakening at the voting booths. We need an awakening in our check books, and most of all, we need an awakening in our hearts. We do not need the government to care for us from cradle to grave. We must not exchange any of our essential liberties for a little temporary safety. We need a revitalization of justice. We need freedom to make our own decisions, and we must take responsibility for the results. We are Americans. We must pledge our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. Stand with me, stand with the Founding Fathers and proclaim, “We declare! We will not pass on to posterity an inheritance of which we would be ashamed! I will preserve liberty and fight for freedom. I declare!”

Note:  You should warn others when they are on the wrong course, but you cannot expect others to listen to you; you cannot stake your life and future on it.  Believe me; nothing is going to change for the better when it comes to the federal government.  Remember my post Live Unconventionally—declare your own independence, and don’t sink with the ship!