Two hundred and forty-one years ago, fifty-six men made this pledge. Everyone knows that accountability is vital when a pledge is made. People who are trying to break an addiction, lose weight, or accomplish a great feat know the importance of a mutual pledge. A promise made in secret is easily broken. They essentially signed their own death warrant. They had tried to avoid this, they had hoped reason would prevail.
It was not one event. It was not even a series of events or edicts that sparked a Revolution.
Men and women have longed for freedom as long as there have been rulers. As people formed groups for protection there were those willing to give up liberty for security. There were also those who were willing to take advantage of this sentiment for their own lust for power and wealth.
Our founders did not just wake up one day and say they’d had enough; there was a long history of men demanding their God-given rights. This was a history they knew well.
The Declaration of Independence is the last of documents in the genealogy of our independence. The first was the 1100 Charter of Liberty, the 2nd was the Magna Carta of 1215, the Petition of Rights of 1628, the Grand Remonstrance of 1641 and the English Bill of Rights of 1689. All of these led to the 6th document in the roots of liberty, the Declaration of Independence.
If one were to look at the details of these documents, the evolution that took place is clear. Our Declaration of Independence was, without a doubt, the culmination of man’s drive for self-determination and liberty.
I have written and given talks of the hardships endured by the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence. All men and women throughout history who stood for freedom often did so at great personal risk. We are certainly familiar with the fate of William Wallace in the Scot's quest for freedom.
It is easy to say in retrospect, that most of the men who signed our Declaration of Independence did not, in fact, suffer any dire consequences from their action. That was not a foregone conclusion. “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” This quote by Benjamin Franklin certainly indicates their acknowledgment of the potential result of their action.
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Liberty is of divine origin.
Liberty has a price.
Liberty is secured by government.
Liberty requires unity.
Liberty is maintained by obedience to law.
Liberty is dependent upon virtue.
Liberty affords the path to happiness.
These 7 principles of liberty are derived from First Inaugural Address on April 30, 1789, and from his Farewell Address, September 17, 1796. If ever anyone understood, taught, and lived these great precepts, it was George Washington.
Our first president also knew the double-edged sword of government. “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence,—it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant, and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”
We are to be the guardians of liberty. Consider this excerpt from the Declaration:
"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security."
As we reflect on this great document and the true meaning of this day, we should also examine what sort of guardians we have been, and are to be. Benjamin Franklin, when asked what sort of government the Congress had given the people said, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Keep is a verb and verbs require action. There is no question that with all the government agencies that exist today, their rules, and regulations, our liberties are held strictly at the pleasure of those in power.
“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”
John Adams wrote this closing paragraph to Abigail in a letter, 26 April 1777. What do you suppose John would think of the Republic today? To me, this is not “The 4th of July,” this is Independence Day.
What have WE done to preserve it? What have we done to secure it?
I hope each of you will reflect on the sacrifices made for our nation.
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Photo Credit: "Image from page 25 of "Lest we forget!" God and country" (1921)", © 1921 Internet Archive Book Images, Flickr | PD