Independence Day From 1776 to 2013

Fireworks2July 4, 1776

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

July 4, 2013

More than two and a quarter centuries have passed since the Declaration of Independence was signed, and we wake to a world no less in peril. We wake to a government that uses the powers it derives from the governed to enforce regulations unfairly, depending upon the beliefs held by the parties in question. We wake to a government that so distrusts its own people – the same people whose rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness it exists to secure – that it monitors their everyday communications. We wake to a government that attempts to infringe upon the people’s right to bear arms, to worship and speak freely, to be secure in their persons and their property. We wake to a government that has forgotten its place.

We wake, too, to a citizenry who has forgotten its place. They have forgotten that government powers derive from them. They have forgotten that the Bill of Rights is not a list of freedoms given to us by a benevolent government, but a partial list of inalienable rights against which the government must not trespass. They have even forgotten the principles upon which this nation was founded. Rather than honor the right to trial by jury, some pass judgment on court cases they watch on television and declare the defendant guilty, going so far as to recommend rioting and bloodshed if the “correct” verdict isn’t reached.

It is said that in a democracy, you get the government you deserve. Perhaps it is true. So rather than focus on the ills in our government, I’d like to spend time this Independence Day challenging you to deserve a better government.

Protect the Integrity of the Vote

The vote is the foundation of our system of government. All must protect it. Every eligible voter should have a reasonable opportunity to vote, regardless of race, creed, financial status, or political party. Our servicemen and women overseas risk their lives protecting this freedom – they should have a reasonable opportunity to vote and have those votes counted.

This does not mean, however, we should make it so easy that there is no accountability. One eligible voter has one vote. You may not vote on behalf of your spouse, your adult child, your sick aunt, your vacationing neighbor, or your dead father. You may not vote on anyone’s behalf but your own. You may not vote once by absentee ballot and once at the polls. You may not vote multiple times in different districts. You may not vote if you are not legally able to vote. These are examples of voter fraud, and no matter how highly you support your candidates, it is a serious offense. Voter fraud threatens the legitimacy of our government and should carry extreme penalties.

Defend the Rights of Others

In her 1906 biography, The Friends of Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall described Voltaire’s attitude with these famous words: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. 

That used to be a common saying, something everyone believed, but no longer. Today, people only want free speech if it agrees with them. Free speech doesn’t work that way. It never has. Stop being so easily offended by words. In a speech to Parliament, Rowan Atkinson said, “We need to build our immunity to taking offense so that we can deal with the issues that perfectly justified criticism can raise. Our priority should be to deal with the message, not the messenger.  … If we want a robust society, we need more robust dialogue, and that must include the right to insult or offend.”

Remember that unalienable rights are just that – unassailable. We have the right to worship as our conscience dictates. We have the right to live freely and pursue happiness, regardless of our race or creed. We have the right to defend our lives, our families, and our homes from threats foreign and domestic. We have the right to be secure in our homes and our property. We have the right to a fair trial. If you turn a blind eye to your neighbor’s rights being violated, your enemy’s rights being violated, you contribute to tyranny in this country.

Educate Yourself

If you didn’t learn or don’t remember your history from school, learn it now. It’s never been easier. There are many well-written books in the library. Read! You don’t even have to go to the library, as you can read the works of the Founders for free online. Remember these words of wisdom from Animal House.

You can find what is happening in Congress or your state legislature online, and if you don’t understand the issues, you can find background information, too.  If the government derives its power from its citizens, it is vital that the citizens to be educated. Don’t shirk your responsibilities.

Hold Government Accountable

Government is not our master. It is our servant. We need not fear it, but we must be vigilant. We must never allow it to trample on our rights or give it so much power that our liberty is jeopardized. Don’t give government, its leaders or public servants, a pass when they violate the rights of the people or misuse the resources entrusted to them for their own gain. The same goes for political parties. Political parties exist to represent the people and certain principles, and when party leadership no longer represents the principles for which the party was established, it is time for a change.

Remember that We are One Nation

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

The Founders did not always agree. They had all sorts of lively debates around nearly every element of the founding on this nation. They fought to find a place of consensus, to create a foundation upon which they could establish a free nation, and to that end, they mutually pledged to each other all they had to give. That is the Spirit of 1776. North and South. Farmer and manufacturer. Different faiths, different nations of origin, different values — one nation.

It was never easy, this liberty. It was hard-fought in courthouses and on battlefields. It will never be easy. Liberty is not afforded to the lazy, to the timid, or to the self-interested. It was a challenge to declare independence in 1776. It is a challenge to maintain it today.

The future of this nation balances on a razor’s edge. Its hope lies in its people. I challenge you, my fellow Americans, to remain free in the 21st century, to continue to uphold the ideals established in 1776, and to work together so that we may truly be the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. I wish you life, liberty, and happiness this Independence Day!

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