Independence Forever!

Ryan S. Walters | @ryanswalters73

On a warm summer afternoon, June 30, 1826, nearly fifty years to the day of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a small, informal delegation led by the Reverend George Whitney paid aUS_Navy_031029-N-6236G-001_A_painting_of_President_John_Adams_(1735-1826),_2nd_president_of_the_United_States,_by_Asher_B._Durand_(1767-1845)-crop visit to 90 year-old John Adams in his Quincy, Massachusetts home.  In four days the town would celebrate half a century of freedom from British rule.

Though the Founding Father was very old and feeble, and certainly unable to attend the ceremony, the delegation sought from him a toast to be read on his behalf.  Seated in his library, the former President gave them a simple phrase, “Independence forever!”  Astounded, the visitors asked if he might like to add something to his meager statement, to which Adams replied, “Not a word.”

What President Adams understood, that his visitors obviously did not, was that his toast was far from simple; it was a powerful declaration of American sovereignty.  Such a treasure was priceless and Adams had lived through the entire struggle to gain it.  He desired nothing more than to see the United States of America, a free and independent nation, endure throughout the ages.

If he could only peer down from his eternal rest in Heaven to see how we have treated such a gift.

As a historian of American politics, I am sometimes asked what the Founders would think about the sad state of American society today.  My answer is always the same.  I wholeheartedly believe they would be mortified to learn that for all they sacrificed and fought for, to provide a strong, prosperous, free country for all those “millions yet unborn,” that it had been squandered so selfishly.

Though a Federalist, John Adams was as strong an advocate for American independence as any and did not want the new nation shackled to either Britain or France.  He believed that it was his solemn duty to study politics and war, in order to defeat America’s enemies and build an independent nation, so that his children would have the liberty to study math and philosophy, who in turn would be able to give their children the right to study sculpture, painting, poetry, and the other fine arts.

He, along with our other Founders, pledged to each other their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor,” to establish what Thomas Jefferson called an “empire of liberty.”  Had the American Revolution failed, they all surely would have been executed for their treason.  Yet the thought of being hung, drawn, and quartered did not deter them from rising up against the world’s most powerful empire.

Today we seem to have taken such a wondrous gift for granted, content to sell our birthright of independence and liberty for a mess of pottage – massive taxation aimed directly at the people’s pocketbook, rampant government spending for such goodies as “free” healthcare and scores of social programs, attachments to international banks and a global financial system, and an entangling foreign policy that oftentimes resembles an international “meals on wheels” outfit rather than a force for national defense.

Many of our fellow citizens seem to care not at all about the history of our great country or what it has become, so long as they continue to benefit from the generosity of Washington.

I think it’s interesting to gain the perspective of foreigners about the American experiment in liberty, for they are free of our preconceived notions and biases formed from our lack of knowledge of our own history, trashed as it is in our government schools.

The late, Australian-born actor Heath Ledger starred in the Mel Gibson epic, “The Patriot,” a revolutionary war film based on the Swamp Fox, Francis Marion, whose guerilla campaign in the South helped to win the fight against Britain.  After filming the movie, the young 21-year old came to respect his adopted country, saying that he understood why Americans “wave their flag so high and proud.  It’s because they went to hell and back, to build their country.”

Indeed our ancestors did. In a letter to his beloved Abigail, John Adams spoke directly to us about the price that was paid so that we may live in liberty and independence: “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.”

So let us honor the sacrifice of our founding generation by making good use of their gift of freedom.  Let us restore our republic, cut the ties that bind us, and take as our mantra:  Independence Forever!

This column appeared in the Laurel Leader Call (Laurel, MS) on July 3, 2012.

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Comments

  1. David Frazier says:

    Great essay, Ryan. I too believe that the Founding Fathers would be disheartened that we have become a society of instant gratification where the virtues of industriousness, honesty, and integrity of character are no longer emphasized in our elementary education system. They would be appalled that our larger urban areas, our transportation systems, our government buildings, and our communication systems have been turned into a police state. They certainly would not recognize the size, scope, and operation of our “federalist” system of government today, as compared to their original intent–a system where the national government was intentionally designed to be limited in its nature and in its scope. They would shudder at the country’s mounting national debt, all too aware from world, and the country’s history that nothing short of an armed invasion can rob a state more effectively of its political “Independence” from other states than to be in their financial dependency. Jefferson would probably say “I told you so” with respect to the Great Depression of 1929 and the Great Recession of 2008 because we have allowed the banking, insurance, and commercial system to become not only too large to manage, but too large to fail. The FFs would be shocked to see how the federal government ever got into the business of guaranteeing loans, particularly for certain businesses, and how such an arrangement ever passed constitutional scrutiny in the first place. Upon learning how small the world is today, they would be aghast at the size and cost of maintaining the military-industrial complex, along with maintaining our enormous standing military–in personnel, bases, forts, and equipment to maintain them all. The FFs considered a large standing army to be the greatest threat to maintaining a nation’s liberty.

    On the other side of the ledger, if the Founding Fathers were to visit America today, I believe that they would be amazed at the tremendous technological, scientific, and commercial achievements that free men and women have been able to accomplish when not hindered by an overbearing State. They might be impressed and more than a little confused that the once dominant white male Protestant polis voluntarily extended the franchise to all Americans regardless of race, religion, or gender. They would be elated to learn that America has become the world’s leader–the country to which all others take heed. The concept of “Independence” that John Adams was so determined to see America maintain was one where the United States would be viewed as at least an equal in the family of nations. I think that Jefferson might be taken back somewhat due to the fact that we are no longer an agrarian society, but certainly impressed with the fact that we are the “bread basket of the world”. I know Hamilton would be very proud of the commercial/financial system that has evolved as a result of the free market trading system that he helped develop. I believe that the FFs would love the idea that Americans are so transfixed on sports and sporting events–all of the way from little league to the professional level. Only in a free society where there is a healthy middle class, and the inhabitants have discernible disposable incomes and free time can something so utterly frivolous flourish amidst the struggle for survival. Since death and disease were always around the corner, I think that the Founders would be really impressed with the system of public health and education. They would be pleased to see how the 1st Amendment has been preserved, thereby encouraging the free flow of information and ideas–where places of worship of all faiths abound, and where every computer is a vast library. The FFs would be proud to see that the “right to bear arms” has proliferated. They knew from world history and personal experience that no republic can survive if the citizenry is not prepared at all times to stand up to tyranny–by armed force if need be. A tyrant is only as strong as the people allow. They would be saddened, but probably not surprised, that it took a bloody civil war to begin the process of washing away America’s original sin. However, they would be exceedingly glad to learn how the rule of law has succeeded in making and maintaining America as “one nation”, and that the secular democratic republic they designed and set in place has worked as it was intended in order to halt the machinations of many a “would-be” tyrant.

    All things considered, I believe that the Founding Fathers would be quite pleased with how their American republican experiment has turned out, cautiously optimistic about its future, but fully aware that we can lose it, just as certainly as a cut blade of grass can be lost in the wind if we are not careful to mind it.

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