Guest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo
"There! His Majesty can now read my name without glasses. And he can double the reward on my head!"
-Attributed to John Hancock upon signing the Declaration of Independence
"Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people"
-John Adams, 1765
July 4, 2009, is the 233rd birthday of this great country, an anniversary that marks our break with the tyrannical rule of King George III. July 4, 1776, marked for the world a break with the common course of human history---tyranny. Freedom itself turns 233 this year. Two things are essential for a proper understanding and appreciation of the founding of this country, of the liberty it provides and of the example it set for the world: a strong sense of gratitude for what we have and vigilance in preserving it.
On the Fourth of July, our gratitude is owed to the Founding Fathers, who with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, created something unprecedented in human history---a government that, according to the Declaration, derives its just powers from the consent of the governed and, as Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, is dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Our gratitude is owed also to all those who have fought to preserve this proposition, from the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War to our modern military in the present day.
Most of the signers of the Declaration were wealthy and had much to lose. Signing the Declaration was both an act of treason and a self-conscious creation of evidence against themselves. John Hancock was one of the wealthiest on the side of the patriot cause. He had much to lose, yet he signed defiantly and famously in large writing. The reward on his head was earned for his earlier role, along with Samuel Adams, agitating for revolution. In April 1775, the British marched on Lexington and Concord, looking for a stockpile of patriot arms and for this pair of rebels. In June 1775, British General Gage offered a pardon to all who would declare loyalty to the King, excepting Hancock and Adams. Little more than a year later, 54 others joined the two in signing the Declaration, thereby putting a price on their heads as well.
A proper gratitude for what they created compels us to vigilance in defending it and in educating each new generation of American citizens on what we have inherited and what is required to keep it. The quote above, from John Adams, is one of many from the Founders that highlights the essential link between liberty and learning. They understood that liberty comes with the requirement of responsibility and self-control. Without self-control and personal responsibility, liberty turns to licentiousness and lawlessness, which leads to bigger government and fewer liberties. We do well in enjoying our liberty in America but less so in understanding our responsibilities.
There have been many polls taken over recent years that demonstrate the lack of historical awareness of high school and college students. These polls are often used as humorous items in the news, but our failure to educate our future leaders in business and government about the history of our country isn't humorous; it's worrisome. In addition, college students can graduate from many colleges without a course in history. Unfortunately, in the history courses they do take, too many of our professors denigrate America and unfairly compare its low points to world's high points.
There have been low points in America's history, but those are fewer and our highs more numerous and higher than any other country throughout time. An honest and accurate assessment cannot but reflect this fact. There is a reason why so many people wish to come to America, and why so few choose to leave. Before Independence Day, take time to reread American history and teach it to your children so they, too, will always be grateful and vigilant.
Word Count: 611