Declaration of Independence: The Fundamental Question of Freedom

Is it better to suffer the misfortunes of the mistakes of a free people or to live in the luxurious prison of a tyrant?

That is the question at the heart of what we celebrate on Independence Day.

The greatest challenge to freedom has never been the political hubris of aristocrats, bureaucrats, or those who would abuse their authority. It doesn't come from the threat of military retribution or financial ruin. The greatest temptation of liberty is to abandon the responsibilities of freedom for the comfort of letting someone else lead.

They are some of the most famous words ever written, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Many have memorized this sentence. But what is often forgotten are the parts of the Declaration that come next. Consider this -

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."

The last sentence is the most telling. People have a predisposition toward the comfortable prison of the status quo. We give in to the gravity of what is known. It cuts to the heart of what it means to be a character-based leader. Will you take responsibility for your own destiny or will you allow others to set your limits for you?

As our Declaration states, freedom is not about casting off restraint. It is every individual taking responsibility for their choices and allowing the logical consequences of those choices to run their course.

The challenge of our day is that we've come to value the pursuit of happiness more highly than life or liberty. We esteem survival more greatly than sacrifice. This was certainly not the case for the authors of the Declaration. They clearly defined the price they would pay for freedom.

"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."

This is a grand statement that illuminates several ideas.

  • Freedom, self-leadership, has a price. It is nothing less than our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
  • Independence, the ability to choose for one's self, finds it's greatest strength in selflessness rather than selfishness. The commitment of the Founding Fathers was their mutual pledge to one other.
  • Liberty, the removal of arbitrary restraints, is a risk worth the sacrifice and the reward.

When I consider the history of our nation and the sacrifices of those who gave what Abraham Lincoln called, "the last full measure of devotion," in order to secure our freedom I am challenged to continue in this heritage of faithfulness.

Do you stand ready to live in the responsibilities of freedom? Will you value liberty worthy of sacrifice? Will you pledge to those you lead and those you serve your life, your fortune and your sacred honor?

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