The Animating Contest of Freedom

By Kevin Shannahan

This year the Fourth of July falls on a Tuesday, with most official celebrations falling on a more convenient Saturday. The papers are chock full of ads for sales. Cookouts and fireworks await, Summer beckons.

I am quite frankly surprised that The Fourth of July has not suffered the fate of Memorial Day and President’s Day, the actual day changed to the nearest Monday for the convenience of a three day weekend. That we are so casual in celebrating our nation’s historical milestones is a testament to the enduring success of the government brought forth by the American Revolution. The freedoms we enjoy today are seen as normal and unremarkable rather than the historic exceptionality they are.

As with Memorial Day, I do not begrudge my fellow citizens cookouts, fireworks and sales. This is America, a nation of free people. The Soviet Union and its successor in all but name, Putin’s Russia, puts on an impressive May Day parade and Victory Day Parade each year. For that matter, North Korea and Communist China are no slouches in staging parades consisting of a seemingly endless stream of tanks, missiles and soldiers.

By contrast, American ICBMs stay in their silos, our tanks in their bases. We do not parade them down Pennsylvania Avenue accompanied by goosestepping soldiers like a Nuremberg Rally drawn from the dustbin of history. America’s strength is in her people. Her guardians are free men and women sworn to the Constitution, not to a dictator or a party.

Two-hundred and forty one years ago, The Declaration of Independence laid out the case for a new nation in which:

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

It took 8 years from the “shot heard ’round the world” at Lexington to the end of the Revolution in 1783. None of that time was easy, and there were many moments when the United States’ fate hung by a thread. Nor have the years since been tranquil, for such is not the human condition. Eighty years after the United States won its independence, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation while the nation was in the middle of its bloodiest war, a war to determine what kind of nation we were to be, indeed if we were to continue as one nation.

Ninety-Two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, a woman in Montgomery, Alabama named Rosa Parks was to further move America closer to the ideals expressed in its founding. A mere 8 years after the Montgomery bus boycott her actions ignited, Reverend Martin Luther King delivered his iconic “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

Shortly after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Samuel Adams delivered this speech at the Philadelphia State House.

“If ye love wealth better than liberty,
the tranquility of servitude
better than the animating contest of freedom,
go home from us in peace.
We ask not your counsels or your arms.
Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you.
May your chains set lightly upon you,
and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen”

The “…animating contest of freedom…”, not tanks and missiles on parade, is what makes this nation great. Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and men and women who risked everything they had, and who all too often lost, but who would not give up are the strength of this nation.

Over the decades since America’s founding, despots have often foolishly mistaken the American people’s seemingly chaotic society for weakness. When the smoke finally cleared, it was the citizen soldier who stood victorious in Berlin and Tokyo. They would later drive Communism to the trashheap of history.

So while we enjoy time with our families the Fourth of July, let us remember with gratitude the 56 men who risked “Our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” 241 years ago by signing the Declaration of Independence. Let us remember the men who gave that Declaration force by their actions at places like Lexington, Valley Forge, and Trenton on the long road to victory at Yorktown. The Founding Fathers gave us a nation. Men and women who came after them preserved our country and brought it closer to its founding ideals. It is a never ending process, but make no mistake, this nation is indeed a “Shining city on a hill.” May it ever be thus.

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