Part 1 of 2
Here we are in the midst of an all-important Presidential election and, curiously, one hears nothing of “liberty.”
This is among the key ingredients of what made America great in the first place and yet it is almost forgotten in the Republican formula of “Making America Great Again.” And, of course, it is non-existent on the Democrat side.
What a glaring omission from both the campaign for the most powerful office on earth and hundreds of other elections that determine our destiny.
Sure, people all across the spectrum say they believe in it. But, if anyone actually speaks about it in any detail, it is a sign of imbalance or extremism. After all, isn’t this the day and age when the sole question is often, “What can my government do for me?”
Patrick Henry’s cry of “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!”, which pierced American hearts in March, 1775 and established the American creed, has been replaced with equal fervor by, “Give me stuff and I’ll vote for you!” and “Please save us, Oh Great Leader, who will deliver us from all evil.”
What a contrast with the dilemma of our Founders, as evidenced during the Constitutional ratification debates in 1787 and 1788, whose major issue was, “Are we ceding too much power to our federal government?” The Founders had no interest in recreating a tyrant from which they had just separated.
Wow, have we changed.
At inception, the primary role of government was to guarantee unalienable rights and, then, leave us alone. Freedom was paramount in the hearts of Americans because they realized that opportunity occurs when freedom reigns and government stays within proper bounds.
Now, however, we invite to steer our lives an ever-overreaching federal government as long as it provides what we need. Correct, we are relinquishing our birthright, and that of our children, for a bowl of pottage.
Today, government must do us favors, taking from one class to give to another, mine. It’s about overregulating an out-of-favor industry and subsidizing mine. It’s about having the other guy pay a larger burden of taxes than me. It’s about access and cronyism and aligning government, the biggest bully of all, to my side.
When did this happen? When did liberty take a back-seat in our dialog? When did discussion of the proper role of government become passé?
In the rare instance when the subject of liberty is broached, everyone is on-board, of course, as they are for clean water and air. No one in America would say otherwise. But, we don’t even know what it means anymore. Or we don’t care.
Lip service. That’s all liberty gets these days.
Liberty, Freedom. Some say they have different meanings, but let’s stipulate, for the moment, that they are the same. How are they to be defined? If we are in favor of them, but can’t define them, then we have a problem.
Our Founders understood freedom and endlessly discussed and debated it. They also understood and defined tyranny. What do we know about either? As a nation we have forgotten the meaning of both. How can a nation remain free if it doesn’t recognize the difference? In the end, it cannot.
The best-known chronicled definitions of liberty and tyranny is our own Declaration of Independence, drafted by Jefferson. It was then edited by the committee of five and submitted to the entire second Continental Congress for review and critique.
After an excruciating editing for Jefferson, the final draft was at last put to a vote and approved unanimously by the 13 colonies. Therefore, Jefferson’s Declaration was not only reiterated by self but by an overwhelming majority of the delegates from the colonies.
This document has become part of our civil religion and is the foundation of what it is to be an American. It contains beliefs to which all Americans subscribe – or at least, to which we profess to subscribe.
Most Americans know some of what is contained in the Declaration. But, do we apply what we know?
We believe, for example, that “all men are created equal. That alone was a revolution in five 5 words. We have “unalienable” rights derived from our creator and among those are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Governments are formed to secure these rights. Government obtains its powers from the consent of the governed, and when government works at counter-purpose to these ends, it is the right of the people to change government.
Our memories are short; we have much to relearn.
For freedom to exist, I enumerate truths that Jefferson would be happy that we rediscover:
• We have unalienable rights.
• These rights are given to us by our Creator not government.
• All people everywhere have these rights.
• Primary role of government is to protect our unalienable rights.
• Government’s power is delegated to it by the people.
• People can only delegate what they legitimately possess.
• Powers delegated to the government are limited in scope to fill its primary role.
• Government does not have authority to give itself power outside of delegated power.
• When Government does not fill its primary role or it exceeds its delegated authority, the people have a right to change it.
Wow! According to Jefferson and the Founders, liberty prevailed when a people and their government adhered to the principles above.
The Declaration tells us about the original American creed and what government must do to maintain our freedoms. It includes, too, a virtual concordance of what a government should not do.
Is our government fulfilling its primary role as set forth in this seminal document in which we profess to believe?
Is government’s primary role today to protect our unalienable rights so freedom reigns and opportunity is abundant?
It is no accident that the United States of America has created more wealth and opportunity for more people than any nation over the spectrum of time. This is because of the principle of liberty upon which our nation was founded.
The founders understood the link between freedom and the human potential.
Take a look at what troubles our promised land today. Maybe, we should give freedom another try.
Where’s our next Patrick Henry to stir the hearts of man? I’ll be looking for him.