The true revolutionary aspect of the Fourth of July was not the military battles that the English colonists waged against the British Empire. Instead, it was the notion that was expressed in the Declaration of Independence: man’s rights do not come from government but rather from nature and God.
Throughout history, people have been taught to believe that their government is the source of their rights. The consequence of that mindset is logical — people express gratitude to their public officials for their freedom.
Along came the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, and that notion of people’s rights was upended by a truth that would forever send shivers of fear through every statist official throughout the world. Since man’s rights are inherent, fundamental, natural, and God-given, there’s no need for people to ever be grateful to public officials for such rights.
More important, since such rights are God-given and natural, public officials have no business interfering with them, manipulating them, and infringing upon them. In fact, as the Declaration of Independence indicates, people call government into existence to protect the exercise of such rights, not to regulate or interfere with them.
Contrary to popular misconception, the American Revolution was not fought by Americans against some foreign government. Instead, it was fought by Englishmen against their own government. The signers of the Declaration were as much English citizens as you and I are American citizens.
Those Englishmen understood an important point, one that all too many modern-day Americans unfortunately have forgotten: that the biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of a citizenry lie not with foreign regimes or foreign citizens (including terrorists). Instead, it lies with one’s very own government.
As the Declaration of Independence points out, whenever any government becomes destructive of the rights and liberties of the people, it is the right of the people to alter and abolish such government and to institute new government that is limited to its proper role of protecting, not destroying, the rights of the people.
That’s in fact what the Constitution is all about, which must be construed in the context of the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution called into existence a new government whose powers would be expressly limited to those enumerated in the document itself.
But even that wasn’t sufficient for our American ancestors, who held grave reservations about calling into existence a federal government, again because of the threat it posed to their fundamental rights and freedoms. That’s why they insisted on the Bill of Rights as a condition for approving the Constitution.
The First Amendment expressly acknowledges that the biggest threat to such fundamental rights as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and peaceable assembly is the U.S. Congress and, by implication, the rest of the federal government. One of the primary purposes of the First Amendment is to ensure that the citizenry can bring peaceful change in government policies through the exposition of truth and the dissemination of ideas. When people are free to criticize government actions, then there is the potential for change in a positive direction. Even totalitarian regimes — those with total power and all the guns — understand this principle well, given their propensity to shut down articles, speeches, and peaceful demonstrations.
Obviously the First Amendment is insufficient if the government has the power to seize people, lock them up without a trial, and torture them into falsely confessing their guilt to bogus crimes. That’s what the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments are all about. Again, those amendments were an express acknowledgement by our American ancestors that Americans faced a constant threat on the part of their own government to do these types of things to the citizenry.
And of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the Second Amendment, which actually should have been made the First Amendment, given its supreme importance. For when the citizens are free to keep and bear arms, would-be tyrants, for obvious reasons, think twice about depriving well-armed citizens of their fundamental, God-given rights.
On the Fourth of July, let us celebrate the courage and wisdom of our American ancestors, who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in the defense of the most radical exposition of rights and liberties in history. Let us also pledge to do all we can to build on what they began, with the aim of taking America to the highest reaches of freedom ever seen by mankind.