On Independence Day, So Help Me God: Radio Essay for July 2, 2011

Another anniversary of American independence is upon us: number two hundred thirty five. It is quite likely that you will attend a fireworks celebration in person or hear its thunderous roar in the distance. It was John Adams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, our first Vice President and second President of the United States, who, with a great sense of history, wrote to his wife, Abigail, about this Day of Deliverance. He said that this day “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade…with bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever.” And so we do. I recall being present during the Bicentennial celebration at OpSail ’76 in New York Harbor as tall ship after tall ship paid homage to the home of the free and the land of the brave. And I will forever remember the fantastic fireworks display that followed.

There is another part of this famous John Adams quotation that is overlooked. In fact, it sets up the comments about the pomp and parade. This great anniversary festival, he wrote, “…ought to be commemorated…by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”

What we celebrate on Independence Day is not simply the declaration that our country ought to be free. We celebrate the triumph of humanity as defined by “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” over eons of servitude and slavery to kings and potentates. The United States of America was, and remains, the most important of all social experiments. When the American Colonies broke from the Crown, we threw down a mighty gauntlet against autocracy that mankind ever since has emulated. We remain the freshest of democracies.

Americans have grown very cautious about speaking of our faith in public. We have effectively separated state from church and church from community. State has become defined as anything in the public domain. Our schools and communities fear any reference to faith lest we run afoul of contemporary Constitutional interpretation. But our Founders had no qualms about speaking of their devotion to the divine. In fact, our Founders were inclined to prohibit the state from controlling religion rather than exorcizing faith from the national discussion.

Is there a more eloquent or more revered personage in America than Abraham Lincoln? He said,

We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

So, this weekend, this glorious celebration of our 235th anniversary of a free nation, feel free to understand our unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I leave you with an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence.

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 the Name, and by 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 all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — 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.

Happy Birthday, America, so help us God.

Press on.

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