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Wednesday, July 04, 2018


Once again the Fourth of July brings picnics, parades, and fun for all. But, after the pop, beer, and hot-dogs are gone and the last firecracker snaps in the night, what remains? As history closes the book on another Fourth of July and as the Dog Days of summer close in, a question emerges, “Is that all there is?”

With the hubbub over, attention lingers on our nation’s quest for freedom and the price paid 242 years ago. Equally significant is the here-and-now and the future of the legacy left to us.

If the idea of freedom and liberty is as dear as we make it to be, then how are we to account for an ever-expanding federal government and its control over our lives and property?

A year prior to July 4, 1776, the British were engaged militarily with the Americans. Each colony began assembling military stores. Concord served as a major depot for these stores and became a primary military target for the British. On the village green Minutemen prepared to defend the stores as a 700-man British expedition approached. Historians still dispute who fired the “shot heard ‘round the world.” Although the British destroyed the stores, they paid dearly on the return march and were nearly annihilated. The revolution was launched.

In some respects the conflict between Great Britain and her colonies resembled a civil war. Within the colonies possibly one third of the population remained loyal to Britain, one third opted for separation, and the last third didn’t give a rat’s rear end. Even in the mother country many members of Parliament opposed British military coercion as policy dealing with the Americans.

In Philadelphia, July 1776, time for talk in Congress ran out. One by one, from north to south in keeping with their customary order, each delegate cast a single vote. At issue was the adoption of a 1,337 word document declaring separation from Britain which, whether signed or not, made each delegate guilty of high treason. The vote of the Continental Congress was literally a death warrant.

Meanwhile, in New York harbor, a British fleet of 120 war ships stood by prepared to disembark 10,000 troops with another 15,000 to 20,000 en route on the high seas. The British objective was to capture New York and cut off the Continental Army when word was received of the congressional vote.

No rebellion within the British Empire had ever succeeded. Why should these American belligerents with no organized military force, no visible means of material support, and no experienced military leadership believe they could prevail against the greatest colonial power in the world? No wonder many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were visibly shaken as they penned their names to the document that declared the thirteen American colonies free and independent of the British crown. If caught, every signer could be hanged. As it turned out, although victorious in the end, most of the signers did suffer immensely prior to the British surrender.

Signatories of the Declaration of Independence who lived anywhere near a British stronghold were targeted. It’s difficult to entertain fuzzy feelings of patriotism when your wife is brutally abused on a prison ship as in the case of New York Delegate Francis Lewis. Or, your children are taken never to be seen again as in the case of New Jersey Delegate John Hart. Or, your merchant fleet is destroyed as in the case of Pennsylvania Delegate Robert Morris. Or, your home and crops are burned as in the case of Rhode Island Delegate William Ellery. This is only a short list of those who suffered privation for their defiance. The long struggle would continue until the surrender of Major General Charles Cornwallis October 19, 1781.

Historical events do not reside in a vacuum and ideas really do have consequences. We cannot separate the ideas of the Founding Fathers from the thinking of Reformation Europe. Our Founding Fathers were sustained by their faith and understood two kinds of government. External government pertains to civil government (civil control). External governments, be they monarchy, dictatorship or even democracy, impose control on the people. On the other hand, internal government pertains to self-government (self-control). It flows from within each person outward toward the family and then into the community. This idea stressed individual responsibility and self-discipline. Our founders’ idea of limited government and maximum freedom rested solidly on the assumption of internal self-government.

Today the paradigm has shifted. Given our contemporary culture, a legitimate nagging question persists. Can we match the character and commitment of our forefathers and act decisively to preserve the legacy of liberty they passed to us?

In the end, we the electorate, attempting to keep a more perfect union, do get the government we deserve whether we elect a King George or do the George Orwell thing (“1984”). When we think and act as if our rights come from the government, then those rights can just as easily be taken away by the same government. Alternatively, the inalienable rights idea might afford a better foundation. If so, then the Fourth of July becomes all the more credible and the picnics and fireworks are reduced to a fun façade.


Dennis M. Patrick can be contacted at (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).



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