By Nathan Barton
On Sunday, 2nd of July 2017, I celebrated the 241st anniversary of the Continental Congress voting to declare independence of the Thirteen States from the English Crown and the British Empire.
As I did that, I reflected over what vision (if any) those Founding Fathers had for their thirteen sovereign, fledgling nations. Their alliance, at least at that time, was strictly a wartime, temporary one, though many (like Franklin) thought it should be permanent. There were already vast differences between the thirteen states: differences that would lead to delayed entry into the “perpetual” union, conflicts, and ultimately, total war.
Were these men really so short-sighted that their only goal was independence from Britain? The evidence is that was not their only goal, if indeed it was a goal and not merely the means to a goal.
Their vision was much greater than just independence of thirteen colonies of “Englishmen” (which already had people from (or whose ancestors were from) many different places).
So was Union – the creation of a great federation or nation, even empire – their goal? Again, the evidence is that such was not their goal. Yes, there were those with dreams of such: knowing the vast expanse (to 18th Century dwellers) of the continent to which edge they clung, and taught the history of Europe and what we now call the Middle East up to that time. The opportunity was there. But for most, I am convinced, it was again just a means (if that) and not the goal.
So what was it?
It is no doubt old fashioned to believe this, but I think that their primary vision was a very simple one: a vision of liberty. A vision of freedom for themselves, their children and grandchildren, their families and communities. Of a society in which they could be free to make their own way, make their own decisions, live their own lives and have both the responsibilities and rewards of doing so.
And in so doing, accept some essential realities. First, that they might not succeed – that there would be failures. But that they would not succeed or fail except based on their own deeds, their own plans. That liberty required responsibility. Freedom to choose what to do requires responsibility for what is done. Even children must accept responsibility for their own actions – and the results might be bad, whatever the intentions.
And they recognized that liberty meant, all too often, giving up peace. Or to put it another way, giving up security. But liberty was more dear to them than tranquility or peace. Liberty engenders conflict, and even if institutions can be created to reduce and channel and control that conflict, it will still exist. And will sometimes manifest itself in violence.
Liberty also meant risks; not just risk of failure or risks of conflict and war, but other risks. And not just risks that an insurance company or “risk manager” can see and understand and deal with. Human risks – even (dare I mention it) eternal risks, spiritual and moral risks. They knew that liberty provides opportunity not just to do good things, but to do evil things as well. They had their own history and that of the Western world to see example after example of the temptations of greed and lust for power, for control over others. And since the vast majority of them were believers in God and the Bible, they saw the risks of temptations of wealth and power being able to corrupt them and cause them to fail.
They also realized that, in the long term, liberty cannot be restricted or limited to one place, to one “kind” of people (whether class or race or nationality or creed), but must continue to grow and expand. Else, it will die. As it did in Canaan, in Greece, in Rome, in Spain, in Britain. And that in the long run, it WILL die unless each succeeding generation can be taught and shown how liberty works.
But they considered the risks and dangers of liberty – liberty for individuals and not liberty for groups or communities or states – to be far outweighed by the benefits of living in freedom. They were willing to, and did, risk many things – especially their lives and fortunes and sacred honor – for the pursuit of liberty and its benefits for them, their children and the rest of their family and descendants. Just as their forefathers had done – leaving behind good and bad, familiar surroundings and societies. Leaving those things behind to seek out and hope to win freedom and wealth in a New World.
If there is any good about these States, 241 years later, and their history, it is NOT the results, mixed as they are. It is the vision of liberty and freedom for them and for us; a vision not ever fully achieved (and probably only fully attained in glorious eternity), but one constantly sought and fought for.
Today, we are in one of those deep valleys in which our liberty, our freedom, seem to be slipping from between our fingers. But this can be overcome, just as it has been in the past, and not just in America.