On Monday we will celebrate the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This is one of the few official holidays that I actually celebrate, one of the few that I think everyone in America should celebrate. I plan to spend time with family, and to talk about what is in the Declaration, its logical structure (modus ponens), what was at stake, and why it mattered. I also plan to light fireworks. In one of the cruelest of ironies, many places in America prohibit the lighting of fireworks on Independence Day—all the more reason, I think, to light them.
Whatever you do on this day, and however you celebrate it, I have one request to make: Do not call it “the Fourth.” Do not wish people “happy Fourth of July” or just “happy Fourth.” We are not celebrating the fourth day of July. We are celebrating our independence. The word “fourth” is shorter and easier to say than “independence,” I will allow. But the corruption of the latter into the former tends, ever so slightly, to obscure why we celebrate this day. It does not matter that it is in the summer, that it is in July, that it is on the fourth day of that month. What matters is that brave men declared, and were prepared to fight for, their independence from an overreaching government.
The final sentence from the Declaration is: “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.”
Rarely have more powerful, and more signifying, words been uttered. Many of the men who signed the Declaration paid their fortunes or their lives—or both—for having done so: But they did not sacrifice their sacred honor. What would you have done if you had been alive then? Would you have signed? Would you have fought—literally fought—for your independence?
I frequently ask students what they would be willing to sign a Declaration for, and what they would be willing to fight for. The most common answer is a shrug of the shoulders. Not much of anything. Ho-hum. Whatever. One student told me recently, “Our generation just doesn’t think like that.” I pray she is wrong, but I fear she is not. Look around the world: the threats to liberty today are as great as they have ever been.
The day may well come when we, even we, in America may have to ask ourselves: Where is the line? When will we decide that the infringements on our liberty, and on our independence, have grown too great? When our property can be taken by the government without our consent and given to other citizens? When we can be stopped while traveling and be subjected to full body searches for any reason or no reason—when even our children and our infirm can be physically groped and searched? When officials may demand justification for every dollar we earn, every dollar we save, every dollar we spend? When every association, transaction, agreement, or partnership we form is subject to review by officials, may be voided by officials, may be altered by officials? When fifty percent of the fruits of our labors is taken by government and redistributed according to its wisdom?
Perhaps you do not think that the infringements on your liberties here in America, as surprisingly numerous and extensive as they have become, warrant yet your own declaration of independence. Perhaps you say, rightly, that people in some other countries have it much worse. Fair enough. Where, then, for you is the line? What would government officials have to do to you—to you personally—for you to declare publicly and with resolve, “this now has gone too far”? What would it take for you to decide that you now need to claim your independence, your native, natural, God-given freedom as an independent sovereign consciousness, as a protector of your own liberty and that of your family and your fellow citizens, and be prepared to face whatever consequences might ensue?
Our country exists, and the extraordinarily rare scope of freedom we Americans have enjoyed with such complacency exists, in no small part because of those men who risked their lives and fortunes two hundred thirty five years ago to declare independence from tyrannical and unjust rule. That is the cause for our celebration. And the question it demands we ask today is what each of us too is called to do in the service not only of our own freedom, but that of our fellow citizens and of future generations.
Happy Independence Day.