The Nation’s Founding

Then suppose a tall, thin, red-headed man known for his unusual brilliance but also a fierce independence of mind presents a document to you, one that declares independence from the government you've been raised under, which boasts the world's mightiest military.

He justifies this action by stating that governments are instituted to secure men's rights, that whenever they becomes destructive of that end, it is the people’s right — nay, their duty — to abolish them and form new ones. And to do that very thing, the man — known to you as Thomas Jefferson — asks you to join him in pledging your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor by inscribing your name on the document.

Would you sign it? Our country’s founders did.

God willing, none of us will ever face such a decision. But each July 4 we should recognize not only our Founding Fathers’ wisdom, but also their courage.

Our July 4 celebration commemorates breaking the yoke of English tyranny, which began with the Continental Congress’ signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. That parchment expresses the Founder's moral vision for a free society. Their natural bravery and “right reason” must have been fortified by its stirring words, as millions still are today.

Penned by a young Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration is, along with the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, one of the three monumental documents of our nation’s founding. With this magnificently written document, the little known Jefferson immediately established himself as a political writer of the first rank.

We are endowed, Jefferson argued in the Declaration, with certain rights by Our Creator and thus those rights are “unalienable”: they cannot be given, taken, or voted away. Among these are “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Governments are thus formed to secure these rights.

When governments abuse rather than secure them, then “it is the right of the people to alter or abolish” the government and form another more suitable to these ends. In the course of just two paragraphs, Jefferson struck brilliantly the enduring propositions upon which our liberty rests, now as then.

Looking back from the safe distance of 200 years, one can easily overlook the courage required of the Founding Fathers to declare their independence, risking everything by rebelling. They knew well the strength of the British military and the brutality of the King's troops.

To resist they had little more than their muskets and the will to be free. They could not know, as we do, whether future generations would judge them as prophets, or fools. But they were willing to risk history’s judgment — not to mention their lives — to live as free men. What are we willing to do?

Not much, apparently. Today, Jefferson and the others would scarcely recognize the country they founded. The Constitutional chains they forged to bind the federal government are dangerously eroded. Decades of leftist duplicity, judicial activism, relentless media propaganda, and the supine acquiescence of most Americans have taken its toll on the Founders’ elegantly designed system of government. We’re now burdened with a prying, bloated central government that knows few limits — a grotesque mockery of real federalism — which the Framers would consider tyrannical.

It’s a hard lesson learned, but liberty requires more than merely attending Independence Day celebrations. It means vigilantly guarding against tyrannies both without and — nowadays more often than not — within. It also means forcing the government to abide within the limits imposed upon it by the Constitution, even if that means foregoing personal gain through more “entitlement” programs paid for with other people’s money.

If nothing else, July 4 should be a time to rediscover our nation’s founding principles and to appreciate the wisdom and courage of the men and women who gave it birth. Otherwise, Independence Day becomes a hollow exercise in ancestor worship, with no real understanding what the fuss is all about.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage