The birth of the American experiment in 1776 is not something to be taken lightly. To be a citizen of this great country that has been the bastion for individual freedom and prosperity goes beyond precious. I believe America has been and continues to be a gift from the hand of God to this world. But this gift is fragile, and we have no assurance it will continue, unless we strive to keep it.
Never having been done before was the revolt against tyranny and formation of a government that would be ruled by the people, and not just an overthrow of a tyrant or dictator. This self-government was not to be a “flash in the pan” and fade into the annals of history. No, it was blessed to be formulated by intelligent, inciteful men who were students of history and had the dream of liberty for people to enjoy life’s pursuit of happiness. So far, it has relished in a life span of 242 years.
John Winthrop, Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, expressed the idea 146 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. During the Atlantic crossing, he encouraged his colonists in his famous sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity.” (President John F. Kennedy used portions of this sermon in his acceptance speech.)
Winthrop’s words ring through history:
“We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill…The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we should deal falsely with our God in this work which we have undertaken…we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.”
We must keep in mind that this great “City on a Hill” has always existed to draw others to her shores. This phrase implies openness and visibility and welcomes those who come. This “City” of Winthrop’s day would begin to find her way through hardship and struggle for existence. This “City” would not become a by-word but would become the example and envy of the world because of her commitment to religious liberty and the freedom of the individual.
This “City on a Hill” has been open to others. The founding fathers certainly didn’t create this way of governing to withdraw and keep others out. No, they were making sure that peoples from all nations knew they were invited to participate in what they were doing.
The serious concern today is whether Americans can hold on to the American ideal of freedom and self-government and the rule of law. Benjamin Franklin spoke succinctly and truthfully about the future of American independence as the Constitutional Convention came to a close. A friend of George Washington, Elizabeth Powell, was reported to have said to Franklin, “Well, doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” The wise Ben Franklin responded, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
In his book, If You Can Keep It, Eric Metaxas says, “Most of us don’t understand the idea of self-government enough to be properly astonished by it.” That is so true and evident as we gaze around the landscape of our society today. Many do not have a sense of astonishment and specialness of America’s ideals and therefore do not understand the exceptional nature of America. Metaxas continues, “It is the idea that what we have is indeed something extraordinary…So, if we are exceptional, we are not exceptional for our own sakes. We are exceptional for the world beyond our shores…”
America is exceptional and extraordinary and offers great opportunity for all who desire freedom within the boundaries of her laws. But those that are not astonished by the concept of freedom within a self-governed nation will abuse that freedom and seek their own self interests and not seek to “keep” the republic, as Franklin said, that will protect everyone’s freedoms.
Today we are witnessing a blatant misunderstanding of what true freedom is and what it requires. There is a major difference between freedom and autonomy. When people of the “City on a Hill” demand to do whatever they want, whenever they want, it is a demand for autonomy, not a proclamation of freedom.
Freedom comes with a price and within the boundaries of our self-governed society. To remain self-governed, the populace must willingly stay within the legal boundaries of the Constitution, the law of “The City.” To deny this and demand their autonomy is to encourage anarchy and denounce freedom.
Today it is difficult to watch so many special interest groups demanding their autonomy and disregarding laws that afford true freedom. It is difficult to witness the disrespect of the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees freedom within its boundaries of law. It is difficult to watch America teetering on the brink of anarchy.
Did Ben Franklin see this at a distance? Did he see that America would eventually disregard the precious Constitution that would sustain freedom in the republic? Maybe he knew that the republic, that was so carefully and painstakingly formed, would be of such fragile nature that it would take the zealous efforts of its citizens to hold it dear and live within its limits of law.
It has been said of our country today that we are two nations within one border. America’s people are divided along ideological lines and its unity is threatened and strained to the max. Issues are hotly debated and there seems to be no compromise sought.
One of my WW II veteran friends remarked that during that war, Americans were under rationing programs and everyone willingly participated for the good of the country. He sadly said, “That will never happen again.” He said this because the division he sees in the country he loves breaks his heart.
I hope and pray that he is wrong and that the great American people will rise up, turn back to the basics that our country was founded upon and show the world again what true freedom is. The world needs this “City on a Hill” to offer hope and a future from those that oppress.
Freedom is a powerful concept. People long to be free to live their lives as they please. But a free society must have boundaries within the fairness of the law for there to be an orderly society
Yes, this great liberty that we take for granted is powerful and a beautiful concept, but very fragile and must be handled with care. We have been conscripted to be the caretakers of liberty and justice for all as we cling to the limits of the Constitution. Let us encourage each other to get back to the basics of true freedom as we celebrate the birth of America this Independence Day.
God Bless America!