Monday, July 4, 2011

Lives, fortunes, and sacred honor

It's July 4th, 2011. 235 years ago, after arguing about the details for a few days, a group of wealthy criminals agreed to sign a piece of paper. They agreed to no longer obey in anyway the rightful king and government over their land. They went from refusing to pay a few of their taxes to armed rioting to outright revolt.

This group of wealthy criminals, though, aren't really remembered as that. They are remembered rather as a segment of the Founding Fathers of our nation. This was no ordinary document, either. It was the Declaration of Independence. The Second Continental Congress met, defying the order of King George III of England, and determined that it was not enough to argue over taxes. It was time to be free.

The Declaration of Independence lists many of the wrongs that the people of America felt that His Majesty had inflicted upon them. Nationally, we've also paid (and somewhat continue to pay for) the things that were taken out: that the King permitted and encouraged slavery is the most notable of those. The Congress stood by these words and shifted an insurrection into a Revolution.

Other, greater minds will gladly explain how the principles of "natural rights" in Enlightenment Philosophy developed from a Biblical concept of the image of God in mankind. They can explain how the Declaration of Independence is taken from a Christian viewpoint even though many of its signers and drafters were not explicitly Christian. I'll leave that to them.

I want to look at two lines from the Declaration of Independence. The first and the last lines, to be precise.

We tend to think that "When in the course of human events…." is the first line of the Declaration. It's really not.

The first line is: The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America," (at least according to my copy. That's probably just how it was printed, but still.)

Get that? Unanimous. United. Without division, with full agreement. These men came to agreement about the things they knew were wrong and had to be dealt with. When we face crises, how often do we do this? We agree there are problems, but so often put our effort into fighting over the parts we do not agree with. This nation was founded with the idea that we must fight together for what matters the most. They boiled that down to: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. (No guarantee you'll catch it, though.)

The other line that still draws my mind in the Declaration of Independence is this one:

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.

Beneath that, the signatures came, starting with John Hancock and including 55 others, of those who made that commitment.

Think about this for a minute: the most precious thing a man had in those times was his honor. Men would die for honor, would kill for honor, and would count a fortune worthless if obtained without it. This was the greatest offer they could make. All of their character, all of their stuff, and the breath in their bodies was offered for liberty.

It has become far too fashionable to highlight the blind spots of these men, to denote their faults and failings. Yet even the freedom to do that was bought by their efforts---history shows us that tyrants are invariably opposed to criticism.

What we can, and should, see in our Founding Fathers is this: a grand start and a good example. If more of us would find the important things in life and pledge ourselves to each other that we would accomplish those tasks though it costs us all, what would look differently?

Let us find ourselves defending liberty at the cost of all those things, both now and forevermore. Without it, we will not be able to do greater things.


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