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Monday, July 4, 2016

Freedom’s Price

The Fourth of July is one of the American holidays that is a true celebration. We really don’t have a national party for Presidents Day. Memorial Day is more of a solemn remembrance. Many Americans can hardly tell you the reason why we have a Labor Day holiday or what we should do to celebrate.

And Columbus Day? Forget that anymore. Whether because of political correctness or the new view that Columbus was not a hero, we don’t really have a celebration of this holiday either. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is on our federal holiday list, but does not seem to carry the weight of our other national remembrances.

But the Fourth of July is different. It truly is an American party. Highlighted by fireworks displays, both the personal and the professional kind, we light up the skies to celebrate an idea of freedom in America. Since it’s a true party, we also are sure to indulge in food and festivities of many kinds.

For several years, my wife and I lived in Pittsburgh and would make the annual effort to join the crowds at Point State Park where the three rivers join. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra played festive patriotic music prior to the fireworks show. A radio station then blasted out popular music and contemporary renditions of patriotic songs as the skies were ablaze with the rockets’ red glare and gunpowder bursting in air. It was usually a spectacular display.

We Chicagoans have our own version of a big party like this at Navy Pier. Many neighborhoods do their own displays. Some of our neighbors start their own fireworks show in late June and end a bit after July 4th.

We call this holiday America’s Birthday. More officially, Independence Day. It’s the day our democracy was “born” and we declared independence from Britain in 1776.

Like any good birthday party, we ought to honor the one whose birthday we celebrate. In the case of Independence Day, we often pay tribute to those who signed the famed Declaration of Independence.

Most readers would be aware of what I just shared. You might be surprised, however, to learn that the motives of those brave men who were the founders of our country have come into question. Revisionists like to rethink these kind of things.

I located an interesting website,, that has the story of this critique of the founders. And a summary observation to set the historical record straight.

Here’s what they say:
“A common twentieth-century criticism of the founding is that it enshrines the principle of self-interest at the heart of the regime. The Declaration speaks of rights, we are told, but it does not seem to have much to say about duties. If rights come first, and if the first right is the right to life, it seems that our obligations to others are contingent on our rights. In other words, what seems to come first in the Declaration is selfishness, looking out for one’s own life, liberty, and happiness.

Contrary to this view, the Founders emphatically placed their honor and duty ahead of their private rights. The Declaration says, in its second paragraph, that when a people is subjected to a long train of abuses aiming at absolute despotism, “it is their right, it is their duty,” to change the government. This duty is higher than one’s own personal survival or selfish interest. It may in fact require the sacrifice of one’s own life.

That is why the Declaration concludes with these noble words: “We pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Honor and duty are superior to rights and self-interest. The Founders’  clearest statement of this conviction occurs in the “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Their Taking up Arms,” co-authored by Jefferson and John Dickinson, and approved by the Continental Congress in 1775: “We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we have received from our gallant ancestors. . . . We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them, if we basely entail hereditary bondage upon them. . . . [We are] with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live slaves.”

If the Founders really believed that selfish interest was the foundation of human rights, they would never have believed that slavery and dishonor are worse even than death.

You can find plenty of good books and stories to read about the bravery of our founders, their faith and their commitment to Biblical teachings. You can also watch Paul Harvey’s remarkable tribute on YouTube.

These men, whose primary work was building a life in this new land for themselves and their families, had a part time job as well. Defending freedom. They could only hope that they would be compensated for their work with the advance of liberty. And they succeeded.

Today, as we celebrate America’s birthday, spend a moment in solemn remembrance of these heroes of our nation…and thank our “Nature’s God.”

Would someone please hand me a sparkler?

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