Independence Day has come and gone. For some, it was a day marked by joyous celebrations and expressions of gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy. For others, it was marked by rowdy gatherings of drunkenness, seemingly absent of any real patriotism. What surely it ought to have been marked by, is reflection. Reflection on just what it was that compelled the signers of the Declaration of Independence to put their very lives at stake by acting in grave defiance of the British Crown. Reflection on our duty as citizens to protect and, as the framers of the Constitution so eloquently wrote, “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” And finally, reflection on whether we are living up to that duty, or instead allowing for the very foundations of liberty to collapse before our eyes. For those who value the “Blessings of Liberty”, reflecting on these questions is a must. For it is naïve at best to think that an unreflective people can long be free.
This Independence Day was different for me than any previous one, precisely because it involved reflection of the kind just mentioned. On the eve of the 4th, I took the time carefully to read through the Declaration of Independence. It occurred to me that the question of what compelled the signers of the Declaration to do what they did, could best be answered in one word: tyranny. This becomes particularly clear if one considers the following words of the document itself. Just after the authors list their grievances toward the king, we read this:
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
The authors of the Declaration may well have been referring to themselves as “free” only in the sense of being entitled to the same rights and privileges as other Englishmen, thereby highlighting the grave injustice of the king’s tyrannical treatment of them. Yet a truth of much greater significance can be gleaned from their words. The truth that every man (and woman) is free by nature, endowed by his Creator with a capacity for free choice that ought to be permitted to be exercised. It is upon this truth that our sacred duty to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity”, and to oppose tyranny in all of its forms, is founded. It is a sacred duty because even God himself honors and reverences man’s freedom, to the point even of allowing the sin of one man to bring death to all men (Rom 5:12).