Happy birthday to our Republic, 04 July 2009

2009/07/04

On this most auspicious day, I think it would be most appropriate to reflect on the birth of our great Republic, and to remember the noble principles that influenced its inception. Of course, since various notable patriots have already expressed such sentiments far better than my poor power to add or detract, [1] what follows will be a series of their words. I find them inspirational, and I hope you will, as well.

But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havock of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries, the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is. [2]

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. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing the same Object evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security…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 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…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. [3][4]

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sun-shine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country: but he that stands it now deserves the thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered: yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem to lightly: ’tis dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to set a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange, indeed, if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. [5]

…but every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle…if there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this Government, the world’s best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question. [6]

…but you must remember, my fellow citizens, that eternal vigilence by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing. [7]

By the frame of the Government under which we live this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief, and with equal wisdom provided for the return of that little to their hands at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance, no Administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years…Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you in hot haste to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it…I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. [8]

It is for us the living, rather, to be here dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth. [9]

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. [10]

The following quotations are from a much more modern source, but one whose works I have found very inspirational and influential in the cultivation of my own political inclinations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the work in which they are found is also considerably controversial, with detractors claiming that it represents a covert appeal to abject tyranny, while supporters (like myself) claim quite the opposite. As Jefferson himself stated, let history answer this question.

Man has no moral instinct. He is not born with moral sense. You were not born with it, I was not – and a puppy has none. We acquire moral sense, when we do, through training, experience, and hard sweat of the mind…What is ‘moral sense’? It is an elaboration of the instinct to survive. The instinct to survive is human nature itself. Anything that conflicts with the survival instinct acts sooner or later to eliminate the individual and thereby fails to show up in future generations…But the instinct to survive can be cultivated into motivations more subtle and much more complex than the blind, brute urge of the individual to stay alive…survival can have stronger imperatives than that of your own personal survival. Survival of your family, for example. Of your children, when you have them. Of your nation, if you struggle that high up the scale. And so on up…But all moral problems can be illustrated by one misuqotation: ‘Greater love hath no man than a mother cat dying to save her kittens.’ Once you understand the problem facing that cat and how she solved it, you will then be ready to examine yourself and learn how high up the moral ladder you are capable of climbing. [11]

Life? What ‘right’ to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’?..As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost. The third ‘right’? – the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives – but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it. [12]

Citizenship is an attitude, a state of mind, an emotional conviction that the whole is greater than the part…and that the part should be humbly proud to sacrifice itself that the whole may live. [13]

Social responsibility above the level of family, or at most of tribe, requires imagination – devotion, loyalty, all the higher virtues – which a man must develop himself; if he has them forced down him, he will vomit them out…Morals – all correct moral rules – derive from the instinct to survive; moral behavior is survival behavior above the individual level – as in a father who dies to save his children. [14]

When properly understood, I think these foregoing words do, in fact, fit quite well within the scope of truly patriotic belief. The author himself, throughout the work, clearly states his fervent belief that the survival of a Republic depends, in large measure, on the responsibility of its citizens, i.e., those who wield and exercise supreme authority. [15] Fundamentally, the author argues that those who wield authority in a civil society ought to have proven their willingness to volunteer personal sacrifice in support of their beloved home, should the latter require said sacrifice. As indicated by Paine’s statements above, “what we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly…and it would be strange, indeed, if so celestial an article as freedom should not be so highly rated.” It should also be noted that the liberties we enjoy are not “free” in any sense of the word; they have been bought and paid for by the sacrifices of those who were willing to give “the last full measure of devotion” to ensure that our Republic will endure. So, to all those out there who have done so, and to those who continue to sacrifice their personal freedom to purchase our continued liberty: Thank you.

Enjoy the birthday of our great Republic.

Notes:

[1]: Extra credit to anyone who can correctly identify the Patriot I’ve paraphrased here, and where/how the words were originally expressed…

[2]: Thomas Paine, Common Sense, originally published in January 1776.

[3]: Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, adopted 04 July 1776. Yeah, like I could avoid quoting this source today…

[4]: While the opening passages of the Declaration are the most celebrated, the concluding paragraph is also worth mention; my reasons for including it here will become obvious later on.

[5]: Thomas Paine, The American Crisis I, originally published in December 1776.

[6]: Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, delivered 04 March 1801.

[7]: Andrew Jackson, Farewell Address, delivered 04 March 1837.

[8]: Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, delivered 04 March 1861.

[9]: Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, delivered 19 November 1863.

[10]: Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, delivered 04 March 1865. [*]

[*]: It still amazes me to this day that Lincoln’s words, absent reference to the Civil War, still hold true in modern circumstances as well as they did when he first spoke them (over 100 years ago) – not bad for a man who was not considered to be a great orator, and who, himself, believed that “the world will little note nor long remember” his own words!

[11]: Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers, Chapter 8.

[12]: Ibid, Chapter 8. Statements such as these are probably among those used by detractors of the work as ‘evidence’ of Heinlein’s hatred of liberty and the ideals of our Republic. In his defense, Heinlein also describes Jefferson’s words as “magnificent poetry,” and he also states (in other works, I’ll grant you) his admiration for Jefferson and his ideals.

[13]: Ibid, Chapter 11.

[14]: Ibid, Chapter 12.

[15]: That’s right, folks. In a true Republic, supreme authority rests not with our elected ‘superiors’, but with ourselves – i.e., with the body politic itself, and nowhere else. Our representatives may craft the laws by which we govern ourselves, but it is we ourselves who put said representatives into the positions they occupy – and it is only by our leave that they remain there. Such a system is not without its perils, as President Jackson so succinctly states it, but in the end, it is still preferrable to any other system currently in existence.

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