So, here we are at the week of July 4th, Independence Day. A holiday held sacred to me, as any holiday should, but this one specifically because of my phrase, “Living the American Dream.” Inspiration drawn from the founders of this nation.
For this week I felt the need to have something special, not a phrase randomly selected from my mind based on whatever book I happened to be reading, (Which this week was Antifragile by Nassim Taleb), I wanted this phrase to be something from the Founding Father’s. So I dove into the texts, I read several speeches by Patrick Henry, famous for saying:
“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains or slavery? Forbid it Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!“
How can I follow that up? So I kept reading, he gave many other speeches that were instrumental in the forming of our nation, including making the Bill of Rights for the constitution, without that forethought who knows where we’d be.
He spoke on the American spirit in a speech he gave to congress on June 5th 1788. I particularly liked this excerpt.
“We are descended from a people whose government was founded on liberty; our glorious forefathers of Great Britain made liberty the foundation of everything. That country is become a great, mighty, and splendid nation; not because their government is strong and energetic, but, sir, because liberty is its direct end and foundation. We drew the spirit of liberty from our British ancestors; by that spirit we have triumphed over every difficulty. But now, sir, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of consolidation, is about to convert this country into a powerful and mighty empire. If you make the citizens of this country agree to become the subjects of one great consolidated empire of America, your government will not have sufficient energy to keep them together. Such a government is incompatible with the genius of republicanism. There will be no checks, no real balances, in this government. What can avail your specious, imaginary balances, your rope-dancing, chain-rattling, ridiculous ideal checks and contrivances? But, sir, “we are not feared by foreigners; we do not make nations tremble.” Would this constitute happiness or secure liberty? I trust, sir, our political hemisphere will ever direct their operations to the security of those objects.”
To sum up what he said, America was planted with a spirit that grew in England, a spirit of liberty. That liberty in America could convert us into an empire like Britain, as was suggested in our early years, but we did not wish a government large enough to manage an empire. Instead we opted for the middle road.
And I read more, and more, and more, till finally a turned to the reason for this national holiday, the Declaration of Independence itself.
“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,”
No matter where I turned in the writing of the founders, I found the word liberty to be a focus. Since it was so important I looked at Webster’s 1828 dictionary, he, being a friend to many of the founding father’s, had an idea of what this concept meant to them.
1. Freedom from restraint, in a general sense, and applicable to the body, or to the will or mind. The body is at liberty, when not confined; the will or mind is at liberty, when not checked or controlled. A man enjoys liberty, when no physical force operates to restrain his actions or volitions.
2. Natural liberty, consists in the power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, except from the laws of nature. It is a state of exemption from the control of others, and from positive laws and the institutions of social life. This liberty is abridged by the establishment of government.
3. Civil liberty, is the liberty of men in a state of society, or natural liberty, so far only abridged and restrained, as is necessary and expedient for the safety and interest of the society, state or nation. A restraint of natural liberty, not necessary or expedient for the public, is tyranny or oppression. Civil liberty is an exemption from the arbitrary will of others, which exemption is secured by established laws, which restrain every man from injuring or controlling another. Hence the restraints of law are essential to civil liberty.
Pay attention here to how natural liberty and civil liberty are similar. In natural liberty we are yet bound by the laws of nature, in civil liberty we are yet bound by the laws of the nation.
My conclusion in this very long tedious post, liberty, as the Founding Father’s understood it, is the freedom we have today and often take for granted. We are able to decide whether we’ll go to Church or not, which church we want to worship in. Whether we’ll grill or barbecue, whether we’ll be industrious with our talents or sleep all day. We, the American people, have been blessed by God with a firm foundation of liberty, built by our founders to allow us to, as John Wayne put it in the Alamo, “Be rich or poor, drunk or sober.”
So this week, I’m appreciating my liberty.