It’s that special time of the year when American history buffs gain a little extra company as we relish the rich heritage from our forefathers. Each year, as July arrives, I go on a journey in my mind back to 1776 and a humid Philadelphia where my admiration and appreciation are so deeply rooted. Our Founding Fathers gave so generously of their time, talent and treasure so that we could live as free men and women to this day.
Today, we have the luxury of looking back upon their heroic actions, knowing the how the story unfolds. But we lose something if we contemplate the events through the rearview mirror alone and do not take the time to ponder them through the Founders’ real-time deliberations and decisions.
When they began—prior to the drafting of the Declaration—political independence was not a foregone conclusion. Loyalists to the Crown were comfortable with the status quo. Others were fearful of the potential deadly consequences of rebellion. But there were some—exceptionally bold leaders like Patrick Henry, Richard Henry, Timothy Dwight and Samuel Adams—that had a different idea. They had a growing confidence that it was time for the colonies to emerge from the nest and soar like eagles.
They prayed and deliberated, and prayed again. Finally, with strength from God, they moved forward to propose, dispose and then compose what ultimately became our Declaration of Independence.
I have an image in my mind that simply illustrates the democratic principles that they sought to incorporate into our republic. The picture is a hand grasping a two-sided coin: On one side are our collective responsibilities; the other, our personal rights. Both values are essential to our way of life. The hand that holds the coin is none other than the hand of God, the giver of our moral principles.
At any given time, we have a choice about which side to operate from. More often than not, our culture today emphasizes our personal rights—our liberties.
The Founding Fathers chose the side of responsibility. They pledged their lives, their liberty and their sacred honor to one another. They weren’t driven by a need to exercise their individual rights. They weren’t driven by personal profit. They did not seek personal power. They knew full well that they might lose their life for the sake of freedom.
They to chose to be responsible in every way for one another: for the good of their family, their friends and for the nation. In this commitment I am reminded of the famous quote of Benjamin Franklin: “We must hang together, gentlemen ... else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.”
Fast forward to life in America today, 232 years later: We hear far too little about our responsibilities to one another and to country. Tom Brokaw’s book “The Greatest Generation” paints a picture of perhaps the last group of Americans who—in large numbers—understood and appreciated their obligation to their fellow man and to their nation. My father and my mother were part of that generation. They both served their country during World War II with the U.S. Army Air Corps. Needless to say, a sense of duty to others and to country was instilled into me from my earliest years.
Many today treat the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution as little more than tickets that allow them to lay claim to their individual rights—and they are not ashamed to demand those rights from the highest rooftops. The notions of giving back and feeling a collective sense of responsibility are foreign. Misplaced pride and selfishness are the rule. One wonders how long our nation will continue to prosper when getting—and not giving—dominates our contemporary culture.
The time is now for us to flip the coin back—from the side of rights to the side of responsibility—if we are to fulfill our country’s greatest aspirations. Let’s encourage each other this Fourth of July to regain that sense of responsibility and duty to one another and to God, as was the case with Washington, Adams and others. Let’s talk about it at our weekend barbeques and family gatherings.
It is worthwhile to ponder the wise observations of Samuel Adams this 4th of July:
We have no government armed in power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.
On this 232nd anniversary of our independence, let’s reaffirm our desire to be a “religious and moral people.”
That’s our ultimate responsibility.