John J. Hopkins
Editor's note: The following is a re-publication of a column that originally appeared in the Record on June 29, 2007.
As we head into the 4th of July holiday, a good musical to dust off is "1776," a film that is witty in dialogue, lavish in art design and costume, and is a annual summertime holiday treat.
With standout performances by Howard de Silva as Ben Franklin, Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson and especially William Daniels as John Adams -- "Sit down, John, sit down. For God's sakes sit down" -- it is a light hearted look at the events in Philadelphia in June and July in, surprisingly enough, 1776.
But the real story of American history is much 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 to the Almighty and always led by the force of sheer will, our nation was given life by men who chose to risk social exile, financial ruin, not to mention the hangman's noose, all 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 declare and publish that United Colonies are, and by 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 our Lives, our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor."
While the section that begins, "We hold these truths to be self - evident" gets more copy, 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. The consequences of failure would be certain death.
Yet, without straw polls, focus groups, or 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 barometer for public integrity, no such declaration would have been ever written.
With barely 50 percent of the colonists supporting independence, if we had then what we have now for leaders, there would have been no revolution, no signing in Philadelphia, no pledge of "Lives, Fortunes and Sacred Honor," and the 4th of July would be but another summer day for the British subjects in America.
Very little common characteristics cross party lines any more. But courage, real political courage to follow the path of truth no matter the costs, is a virtually non-existent trait, whether the venue be Washington, Springfield or Edwardsville.
No matter your personal agenda - liberal Democrat frustrated at the continuation of a war you thought you voted to stop, or conservative Republican incensed at the immigration amnesty bill -- you yearn for the time when leaders truly led and not just 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 God 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 how far we have traveled in these past 232 years, more importantly, where it is that we wish to some day be.
On this 4th of July, in this journey, it is wise to be guided by the true spirt of the Founding Fathers - Integrity, Faith and above all, Courage. We should hold these truths to be self evident.