This July 4th I urge all of our people to read again the Declaration of Independence, largely the work of Thomas Jefferson. Here is the concluding passage, formally declaring independence from Great Britain:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
We Americans declared our independence, and then had to fight to earn it. The British Army put up a good fight, but they had to take and hold leading cities and towns along the Atlantic seaboard from Savannah, Georgia, all the way north to Boston, Massachusetts. With the help of the French Army and Navy, Washington’s Continental Army forced a British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, ending hostilities. The Treaty of Paris was signed 2 years later.
Political freedom is precious, and must be fought for and maintained again and again. As our Founding Fathers knew well, a free people require good governance by human beings under the rule of law, and ultimately under reason and God. In the amassing of political power, there is ever the danger of tyranny—an over-concentration of power in the hand of rulers, whether inherited, or elected.The government must be circumscribed and constrained in its powers. Failure to stay within reasonable bounds is a main reason we just witnessed the British people voting to break from the heavily bureaucratized European Union. The longing for freedom is inherent in human being. The challenge is to be free and just.
Real freedom must come from within. If citizens are unruly and governed by unchecked passions, their freedom is meaningless. Real freedom is not to be dominated by greed, by pleasure, by the lust for power, by hatred of anyone, by ethnic prejudice, by dishonesty or deceit. Real freedom is costly: one must obey the rule of God within through reason and the Spirit of self-giving love, in order truly to be free. As we heard last week in our worship service, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” The worst slavery is to be enslaved to one’s worst impulses; the best freedom is found truly loving the Source of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”