29 Mar Taking Liberty
By Alan Caruba
It is occasions like the Fourth of July that afford us the opportunity to remind ourselves why it is good to be an American. We have the oldest functioning Constitution and, like Ben Franklin said of the Republic, you have it, if you can keep it. The Constitution is very much under attack these days and greatly ignored by legislators in Congress who do not seem to have either read it or, having done so, do not understand that “shall make no laws” means exactly what it says when it comes to insuring the freedoms guaranteed by that great instrument of government.
Back in 1973, Hammond Map Company published “The Travel Atlas of Scenic America.” I wrote the section entitled “1776 Revisited.” I was thinking about it when pondering what I wanted to write as we celebrate the birth of liberty and recalled the first lines. “We always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.” It was a quote from a Yankee soldier explaining why he and others had fought the British. I wrote that, by 1776, the idea of self-government was so powerful among Americans it would create a new, independent nation based on the will of the people. Its true test was that men were willing to die for it.
History is so poorly taught in our schools today that virtually any parent or adult can cite the ignorance that abides in a new generation to whom the future of this nation will be passed and upon whom it will depend. I suspect that most of the younger generation would be astonished to discover that George Washington led the Revolution for seven long years. Almost by his singular will, he brought about the end of British rule. That was due to the devotion given him by the rag-tag militias and small standing army and navy of the Colonies. When the war ended, his officers wept openly to know they would not serve him again in the great struggle to establish a new nation.
However, it still comes back to those farmers and simple folk who left behind their families and risked their lives because, as that veteran said, “We always had governed ourselves and we always meant to.” How shamed we should feel these days knowing that barely half of all Americans registered to vote can muster the hour it takes to participate in the democratic process of selecting our representatives. How shamed we should feel knowing that new generations of Americans have no idea who wrote and who signed the Declaration of Independence, pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Many of the signers paid a very high price. As the movie, “The Patriot”, says, “Some things are worth fighting for.”
Later came that most astonishing group of men who hammered out the contents of the U.S. Constitution. They make current legislators look like pigmies. Washington presided over the convention that included men like James Madison, its chief architect, Alexander Hamilton, and others whose names no longer shine as brightly.
The framers of the Constitution understood that governments are often made up of “imperfect people” who will, given the opportunity, seek to abuse power. Thomas Jefferson said, “In questions of power…let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” We ignore it at our peril. We endanger our society when we allow leaders to lie under oath, suborn justice, and ignore the Constitutional restraints on high office.
So, let us celebrate the Fourth of July, but let us also celebrate June 21,1788, the day the Constitution became effective when New Hampshire became the ninth State to ratify it. Let us celebrate June 8,1789 when James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights in the House of Representatives and December 15,1791 when Virginia ratified the Bill of Rights, and ten of the 12 proposed amendments became part of the U.S. Constitution. These events occurred just over two hundred and twenty years ago. Not a very long time as history goes.
The United States of America didn’t happen overnight or in a year. It took years to fight for the right to be a free, sovereign nation. It took the participation of its citizens. It took the open discussion of every word in the Constitution by a literate and informed citizenry. Americans took liberty seriously then. Let us pray they still do.
Alan Caruba is a veteran science and business writer who founded The National Anxiety Center in 1990 as a clearinghouse for information about scare campaigns designed to influence public opinions and policies. The Center maintains an Internet site at www.anxietycenter.com. Mr. Caruba can be reach via email at [email protected].