I originally wrote this article for July 4, 2013. I chose the photo of the B1 because I was fortunate enough to know a B1 instructor pilot and he arranged for me to “fly” a B1 simulator for 45 minutes. It was a fascinating experience, all the more so because he told me that the actual aircraft is easier to fly than the simulator. I came away with a renewed appreciation for American technology, and for the dedication and skill of the men and women who designed and produced it, who maintain it, who fly it, and all of the implements with which we preserve freedom. May they have all the fuel and flight time they need.
It’s time to update my comments of 2013. I hope you find something in them that strengthens your pride in America, and that encourages you to take up the fight to preserve liberty. As always, thanks for taking the time to visit this scruffy little blog.
If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.
Thomas Jefferson; Final sentence of the Declaration of Independence
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.
As we plan our Independence day activities, thinking back on the intentions and sacrifices of those who gave us liberty is surely worthy of a few minutes of our time. We tend to think of Ben Franklin’s aphorism as merely one of a great many pithy aphorisms he coined, many published in Poor Richard’s Almanacs, for Franklin made his fortune as a printer, only one of the innumerable talents of this renaissance man. But this brief saying is much more than that, for it expresses an essential truth known to all of the Founders: if they lost, they were dead. Perhaps even their families were dead, and all of their property would be forfeit to the Crown. For them, it truly was liberty or death.
With this in mind, the final sentence of the Declaration of Independence takes on new significance. The Founders—among their number were a significant number of renaissance men—did, in fact, pledge to each other their lives, their fortunes, and above all, their sacred honor. If they could not trust each other, not only to keep their word, but to stay the course no matter the sacrifice, to fight to their last breath to secure freedom, not only for themselves but for the future, for an America they hoped and trusted would be worthy of their sacrifice, they surely would have hung separately. But they were men of integrity, men of honor, and they established the greatest people and the greatest nation in history, a nation not of takers and conquerers but of builders, thinkers, humanitarians and warriors for liberty.
About a century later, men of integrity, honor and courage would be needed again. Consider Gettysburg, where on July 1-3, 1863, more than 51,000 Americans were counted missing, wounded or dead. On November 19, 1863, a ceremony to dedicate the cemetery was held at Gettysburg. Edward Everett, then considered one of America’s greatest public speakers, delivered the main address. He spoke for more than two hours. Few remember his name; fewer remember his remarks.
Abraham Lincoln was invited to speak as a formality, as a matter of decorum. It was fitting that the nation’s chief executive say a few words to dedicate the cemetery, but no one expected him to equal, let alone surpass Everett. Lincoln spoke for only two minutes and many initially thought his speech a failure. Its greatness was not immediately apparent, yet those two minutes, those few words, will be read, spoken, and will inspire as long as liberty lives in the hearts and minds of free men and women. Read these words aloud, and as you do, be transported to that field, that hallowed, still ground in 1863, as the spirits of the dead listen, forever attentive and watchful, alive in America’s heart:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
By all of the failings and frailties the Founders knew human beings fall prey, we have strayed from the path, and our government is no longer of the people, by the people and for the people. We see offices once held by men of honor occupied by petty and dishonest men and women, people who lie, steal, take the fifth, squander the public’s money and trust, people who know no cause but imposing their superior morality and intellect on those they arrogantly and dishonorably think too unsophisticated to recognize their mean estate, and who recognize no good but their own advancement. Despite millennia of history’s lessons, they believe their version of socialist utopia will work this time because they and they alone are special, able to transform reality by the force of their personalities and brilliance. We watch the man occupying the office held and honored by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln denigrate America, Americans, and our allies and shaking the foundations of liberty, actually saving and rewarding tyrannies sworn to our destruction.
There is cause for concern, perhaps even despair.
But temper this against the knowledge that when America faced dark hours, when the world faced almost unimaginable darkness, Americans—men and women in the mold of Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln and the founders who pledged everything they had and ever would have—rose up. They answered the call of freedom, fought tyrants, domestic and foreign, and held the Star Spangled Banner high until America and all she represents lit the world as the shining city on the hill, as the defender and beacon of liberty.
To be sure, America’s stock in the world is low. Our own Congressmen and women stage juvenile sit ins on the floor of the People’s House, protesting due process. Many bite at America like mosquitos attacking an elephant. But even as they do, they know in their hearts that a world without America, an America strong and vibrant and willing to pay any price, to make any sacrifice, to bear any burden for the cause of liberty, is a terrible, ugly and dark place.
So this July 4th, as our elected representatives consider whether American citizenship has any value, or whether it may be won by simply crossing an undefended border, as the enemies of modernity, civilization and liberty plot and crucify children, behead, rape and torture, and as the fundamentally dishonorable and destructive forces that would “fundamentally transform” America and Americans into something far less vital, honorable and free believe they have regulated freedom into retreat, take a moment to remember the words of Franklin, Jefferson and Lincoln. Take a moment to remember all those Americans that gave that last, full measure of devotion that we might enjoy not only the material, technological comforts American liberty has provided in such abundance, but that we too might recognize the call and duties of honor, and that we might, in this time of attack from within and without, in this time of potential final darkness, pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
It’s our time; it’s our turn. May we teach our children well. Dear God, grant that we may not have to take up arms to recover our own nation, but if that be necessary, grant that we may be worthy of the sacrifices of those who came before us that have given us so much. May our children be the inheritors of a free, prosperous and generous America, may they too know that the tree of liberty must, from time to time, be refreshed with the blood of tyrants and patriots, and may they one day speak well of us rather than curse us.
Happy Independence Day, gentle readers.