In his new book, 1776, historian David McCullough tells the story of the everyday Americans who marched alongside George Washington. They were farmers and schoolteachers, lawyers and boys. They were people like Henry Knox, a twenty-five-year-old bookseller who improbably hauled 120,000 pounds of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga overland to Boston in the dead of winter, enabling the Americans to secure a key military victory. They were a ragtag band of freedom fighters who endured a vicious winter and rampant disease to defeat the preeminent military power of the day. They were everyday Americans, and their incredible sacrifices ensured that the Declaration of Independence would be more than a historical document.
So where do we find this kind of greatness today? We see it in the brave soldiers who risk everything to secure freedom abroad. But we also see it in those everyday Americans who revel in the everyday joys and responsibilities of raising a family.
I think this point needs to be made because there has been a great tendency since the invention of the welfare state to rely upon government subsidies to help us along. But the government can never replace a family member. The government cannot raise our kids. As Abraham Lincoln observed 130 years ago: “You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by encouraging class hatred. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn. You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”
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