The Spirit of 1776

John J. Hopkins Jul. 3, 2005, 5:07am

As we celebrate the Fourth of July, a good movie to dust off is the musical “1776."

With standout performances by Howard de Silva as Ben Franklin, Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson, and especially William Daniels as John Adams, “1776" is a light-hearted look at events in Philadelphia in June and July, surprisingly enough, in 1776.

Witty in dialogue, lavish in art design and costume, the movie is an annual holiday treat.

But the real story is a bit more hard-nosed, a bit more sobering. The year 1776 marked the birth of the American Experience. Tempered by a bitter war of revolution against the most powerful empire in the world, guided by repeated and heartfelt appeals for divine guidance and always led by the force of sheer will, our nation was given life by men who chose to risk financial and social ruin--not to mention death--for the sake of principles.

How much things have changed--and not for the better...

“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 Name, and by the 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 the political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved...

"And for the support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor...”

While the section that contains, “All men are created equal...” gets more attention, the last section of the Declaration of Independence--quoted above--is the meat on the bone.

Boldly and unilaterally declaring freedom from the motherland was nothing short of treason, an act of open rebellion against the Crown. Failure would bring the certainty of disgrace, bankruptcy and death by hanging.

Yet without polls, without straw votes and without fear, the Founding Fathers took action on the basis of conscience alone.

Indeed, if popular opinion had been then, as it is most certainly now, the replacement for moral integrity as the barometer of public policy, no such vote would have been taken. With barely 50 percent of the colonists supporting independence, if we had then what we have now as leaders, there is no way that the most significant document in the history of the world is ever drafted, much less signed, and the 4th of July is just another day in the life of the British subjects in America.

Whether you are a Republican incensed by the apparent impotence of the majority in the U.S. Senate or a Democrat dismayed by the cowardice in the Illinois General Assembly, you yearn for the by-gone era, when leaders led, and not followed.

At one time, even the fear of death did not turn away the righteous. Now it only takes the threat of losing an election. At one time, the hand of providence was openly and repeatedly invoked for guidance in the affairs of state. Now, it must be shuffled out of sight for fear of offending the rules of political correctness

A birthday, personal or communal, is a time for introspection, a time to reflect upon where we have come in 229 years, and more importantly where we want to some day be.

Perhaps it is wise to be guided by the true spirt of Founding Fathers--Integrity, Faith and above all, Courage. We should hold these truths to be self-evident.

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