Understanding Freedom

[Carol Iannone 07/04/06]

One of the most stirring records of a young person’s coming to understand the Declaration of Independence and the meaning of freedom as defined in the American experience comes from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town on the Prairie, from her series of children’s books based on her own childhood in the early days of the settlement of the prairie.

Laura and her sister Carrie hear the Declaration recited at the Fourth of July celebration in their prairie town. They knew it by heart, “of course,” we learn (“of course”!). But now Laura has a sudden insight into the words as never before:

“She thought: Americans won’t obey any king on earth. Americans are free. That means they have to obey their own consciences. No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself. Why (she thought), when I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn’t anyone else who has a right to give me orders. I will have to make myself be good.

“Her whole mind seemed to be lighted up by that thought. This is what it means to be free. It means, you have to be good. “Our father’s God, author of liberty—” The laws of Nature and of Nature’s God endow you with a right to life and liberty. Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God’s law is the only thing that gives you a right to be free.”

“Our father’s God, author of liberty” is a line from “America,” by Samuel F. Smith, the patriotic hymn that begins “My country, ’tis of Thee,/Sweet Land of Liberty/Of thee I sing.”

I wonder if even a fraction of young people today possess such a deep understanding of freedom, or, on the other hand, would be able to give their own account of it, if they find they can’t agree with Laura’s God-centered interpretation.

In Pursuit of True Happiness

[Carol Iannone 07/04/06]

In a lecture at Hillsdale College on John Adams, David McCullough pointed out that when Adams and the other Founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men possess the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” what was meant by “happiness” was not “longer vacations or more material goods,” but, rather, “the enlargement of the human experience through the life of the mind and the life of the spirit.”

Further, McCullough explains, “they knew that the system of government they were setting up wouldn’t work if the people weren’t educated.” As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

 

More Than Two Centuries On, And Still a Fine Text
[Peter Robinson] July 4, 2006

We pray Thee, O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through Whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy holy spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of the United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality.

Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world can not give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

—Bishop John Carroll, “A Prayer for the Welfare of the Republic,” 1791