Memorial Day: Something To Remember
By KrisAnne Hall, JD
Our contemporary American experience seems often Orwellian. We have a Congress that denies our Rights in the name of security. We have a judiciary that often denies the Constitution and violates it by asserting a power to make law. Many patriots have expended a great deal of energy to see our Liberty protected and America’s greatness restored. We are all aware that there are still many struggles ahead and mountains yet to be conquered. But let us be reminded of a hope that is rooted firmly in the original American experience that makes our land so exceptional.
Our history is rich with men and women who have surrendered all so that many could live in the greatest place the world has ever known. For over 700 years before the Declaration of Independence, men and women were learning the lessons that would be taught to our founders. Lessons that would infuse our founders with the courage and hope that would build this exceptional land.
Patrick Henry said, “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way to judge the future but by the past.” He was letting us know that his knowledge of those last 700 years, were the very reason he knew how this fight would turn out. He knew that every time men and women understood the value of Liberty and pledged all to protect it, they were always victorious. These guarantees of history must have raced through Henry’s head; 1100 Charter of Liberties, Magna Carta, 1628 Petition of Right, 1641 Grand Remonstrance, and his very own Bill of Rights of 1689. These were battles fought in the name of Liberty and he knew that victory was a guarantee. This is our history. This is our guarantee. This is our victory!
We have so much to be thankful for. Let us not forget that Liberty is a gift that was purchased for us with great sacrifice. Among the many things we have to be thankful for, we must be eternally grateful for the wisdom of men and women that understood that Liberty was a gift from God and that all God’s gifts are worth our every sacrifice. John Adams, in a letter to Abigail in 1777 expressed this sacrifice.
“Posterity ! you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”
We must honor this sacrifice by honoring their memory and continuing their efforts. Too often I see the revisionism of our history in an effort to demean these men and women with the purpose of destroying our Constitution. We do not properly respect their efforts by allowing these lies to be taught to our sons and daughters. We must teach the truth. We owe it to them. We owe it to our children. It is our hope.
I am not trying to give the founders some divine status or even suppose them a level of perfection that they did not have. We must understand that our Liberty was not founded upon people, but upon principles. The people that gave us our exceptional American principles were flawed vessels just like you and me. However, the really amazing part of this history is that flawed men understood that the foundation of an enduring union must be Liberty moored in morality. Consider these words by Alexander Hamilton:
“Equal pains have been taken to deprave the morals as to extinguish the religion of the country [France], if indeed morality in a community can be separated from religion…The pious and moral weep over these scenes as a sepulcher destined to entomb all they revere and esteem.
The politician who loves liberty sees them with regret as a gulf that may swallow up the liberty to which he is devoted. He knows that morality overthrown (and morality must fall with religion), the terrors of despotism can alone curb the impetuous passions of man, and confine him within the bounds of social duty.” The Stand, No. III (April 7, 1798)
Our founders knew that Liberty is a combination of two equally important parts – it is FREEDOM under the constraints of MORALITY. Liberty cannot survive where there is pure freedom. Pure freedom gives man the right to do whatever is right in his own mind: cheat, lie, rob, murder. Pure freedom is anarchy. At the same time, Liberty cannot survive with moral law alone. Moral law not mingled with freedom is theocracy. Theocracy in the hands of men is tyranny in the name of religion. Our founders attempted give us this balance and secure the blessings of liberty for us in our founding documents. If we abandon our history, we abandon our founding documents and disregard our moral foundations, then liberty is in peril.
Thomas Jefferson gave us this warning, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that is justice cannot sleep forever.”
While Benjamin Franklin warned America’s founders directly:
“In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for Divine protection…. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of Superintending Providence in our favor…have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?…. God Governs in the affairs of men And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”
Patrick Henry said “Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.”
Did these brave men and women live without fear? Hardly so! Mercy Otis Warren articulated this dilemma so well.
“I have my fears. Yet, notwithstanding the complicated difficulties that rise before us, there is no receding; May nothing ever check that glorious spirit if freedom which inspires the patriot in the cabinet and the hero in the field, with courage to maintain their righteous cause, and to endeavor to transmit the claim to posterity, even if they must seal the rich conveyance to their children with their own blood.”
They knew that bravery was not the absence of fear, but doing what you must in the face of fear. They knew that the battle for Liberty, as Mercy called it, was a righteous cause. Knowing the source of her courage is the key to understanding her resolve. Mercy wrote a letter to her friend Mrs. Macauley in 1774, from this letter we can know the source of her strength. She said they were “ready to sacrifice their devoted lives to preserve inviolate, and to convey to their children the inherent rights of men, conferred on all by the God of nature.”
The key to victory, the key to the courage that brings victory is not simply fighting the fight, but KNOWING we fight a righteous battle for the One who gave us that Liberty. Our founders were in a position to pledge their lives, the lives of their families, everything that they had because they were firmly rooted in ALL the assurances of Liberty. Our founders knew that Liberty is a gift from God, and those that stand for God’s gifts will be victorious through God’s promises. They firmly believed that living in tyranny was worse than dying for Liberty. They knew that through their faith in Christ, their rewards in standing for God’s gift would be certain, whether on the battle field or in Heaven.
As Thomas Paine so eloquently put it, “THESE are the times that try men’s souls.” But Paine’s full statement gives a richness that is lost with the initial quote alone. Payne continues to tell us who will last in this battle and WHY they will last.
“The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing (sic) its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
If we want to have the resolve that Mercy Otis-Warren spoke of, the confidence that Patrick Henry displayed, we must KNOW what Thomas Jefferson knew so we will not become the sunshine patriots Thomas Paine condemns. We must know Liberty is a gift from God. We must know this Gift, although comes at a high price, is worth fighting for because God is with us. If God be with us, who can be against us?
As an exceptional union built upon exceptional principles, we cannot deny that we are built with a foundational understanding of an exceptional God. Thomas Jefferson reminds us that, “We are not in a world ungoverned by the laws and the power of a Superior Agent. Our efforts are in His hand, and directed by it; and He will give them their effect in His own time.”
Because of our historical understanding that America was built on the principles of freedom and morality, America has always been the haven of rest when tyrants oppress their own. She is the vineyard of innovation and opportunity. We are a people that open their arms to the tired, to the poor, to the oppressed, to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. No other people can claim this legacy; no other people have this birthright. This is the shining city upon a hill, and we cannot hide our light under a bush.
The focus of our education should not be on the flaws of the men who gave us our Constitution, but on the exceptional principles that they gave us. We have an exceptional union where “all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights.” A land birthed by the principle that the power of the government is to be held BY the people and not where the government holds power OVER the people. A country that believes the principle that says all are free to worship according to the dictates of their conscience, and all are equally free, “Jews, Turks, pagans, AND Christians.” We have prospered based on the principle that ideas and hard work open the door to prosperity regardless of bloodline, skin color or social status. A land that has remained free based on the principle that liberties remain secure by maintaining the right to defend self, property, and Liberty.
In the profound words of Daniel Webster, “Is our Constitution worth preserving? Guard it as you would guard the seat of your life, guard it not only against the open blows of violence, but also against that spirit of change…Miracles do not cluster. That which has happened but once in six thousand years, cannot be expected to happen often. Such a government, once destroyed, would have a void to be filled, perhaps for centuries, with revolution and tumult, riot and despotism.” An Anniversary Address by Daniel Webster July 4th 1806
Let us maintain a true focus on what is important. In this day it is so popular to denigrate America for every little flaw. Why not take back a bit of American Exceptionalism? Why not embrace what makes us different from every other place on the globe? America is exceptional because we are built on exceptional principles. Principles of Liberty, freedom, morality, and equality as derived from our Creator. And these principles are STILL WORTH FIGHTING FOR!