Thoughts on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

IMAG0003_1As we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, here are some reflections on its key concepts:

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“The Signer”

Life:  Life is the basic right of every human being.  All good laws should contribute to its protection and edification.  What life should be protected?  All of it, as much as can be.  Civilized humans avoid needless violence and killing.  Killing animals for food and other resources is the way of life, killing purely for sport, or out of cruelty is the way of death.  The unborn?  We’ll if it’s a life, then yes.  The old and the sick?  Death is also part of life, but again, it should not be brought about wantonly or casually. People talk about dying with dignity, especially as a rationale for euthanasia.  I prefer the idea of living with dignity.  How is it beneath anybody’s dignity to fight until their very last breath?  Being in a pitiful physical state does not equal being pitiful in a spiritual state, on the contrary, it is often the opposite.

Liberty:  Liberty is the chance to use our gift of life to its fullest advantage.  Without basic liberties, mankind is held back from reaching its fullest potential.  That is why liberty curtailing forms of government like Communism and Socialism are immoral, or at best, amoral. Liberty comes with the freedom to fail, and learn from our mistakes.  Liberty, the Founders knew, is a fragile thing, easily destroyed.  We must protect our liberties jealously because once lost they are very difficult to regain.  Of all the laws that have ever been passed, how many have increased liberty?  Very few compared to the number of those that limit it.

Our American government has done well extending liberty to classes of people that once lacked it.   That is government at its best.   The problem is that government rarely expands the freedoms of its citizens at large.  Upon gaining the rights of the majority those same formerly oppressed groups find themselves at the lifetime high water mark of their freedom, only to have other liberties gradually taken away and suppressed by mountains of regulation.  It’s like a castaway that washes up on the beach of an island to safety, only to find the beach is eroding into the sea.  Our freedoms are like those grains of sand, being eroded one by one until someone decides to fight it.

The Pursuit of Happiness“The U. S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.”  –Benjamin Franklin.  The Declaration of Independence only suggests that humans have that right to pursue happiness, but the achievement of it can only be done by ourselves. The biggest mistake is to confuse happiness with pleasure. Drugs can produce pleasure, but never happiness. Pleasure is fleeting, true happiness can be maintained over much longer periods of time.   The other mistake we humans make is to think that happiness will just happen.  Sometimes it does, but most of the time it must be earned.  Members of the Armed Forces often forgo the happiness of home and family for long periods of time so that they and others can have it to a fuller degree when they return.  The miracle of happiness is that giving it produces more of it.

Washington’s Crossing Reenactment

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Every year in December, reenactors recreate Washington’s famous Christmas night crossing of the Delaware

Every year I say I’m going to go, but I always missed it for whatever reason.  Finally this year I made it over to Washington Crossing Historical Park in Pennsylvania.  Today was actually a dress rehearsal for the “real” reenactment that takes place every Christmas Day. I appreciate the volunteer reenactors sharing their love of history with the public.

 

dscn3963The original crossing took place on December 25th and 26th, 1776.  It was an act of desperation by General Washington that may have saved the American Revolution.  Defeating the Hessian mercenaries in Trenton, and the subsequent victory at Princeton gave the faltering Revolution a new lease on life.  It was such an important event in our nation’s history that it is well worth leaning about.

Maintain Liberty

 

“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.”  the Declaration of Independence 

Those who would trade liberty for security should get neither
Ben Franklin knew there’d be times like these.

140 years ago today, America declared its independence from Great Britain. A few years later, after tremendous sacrifice, we won that independence and gained a great amount of freedom. Today, we still have that independence, but sadly very little of that freedom.  Over two centuries, but mostly in the fifty or so years, we have either traded away or sold our freedoms in the name of security and comfort.  Even as we would not consciously give up our liberty, our government has found subtle ways to take it.  It takes it in the form of a huge, unwieldy bureaucracy, unelected and accountable to virtually no one.

The Founding Fathers started this quest for freedom and it is one we have inherited.  Freedom did not just happen to them, they had to take it.  It will not just continue to happen for us, to keep it we will have to join that long line of patriots that began with Washington, Franklin, Adams, and the rest.  To the extent we fight to keep ourselves free, we find ourselves in their distinguished company.  The put their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor on the line. Most of us are called upon merely to keep ourselves educated, remain vigilant, and vote.  Maybe because it’s so much easier for us, we assume everyone or someone else will do it for us.  Staying free will require our participation as individuals and collectively.

Those liberties that were hard-won by others are too easily lost by us. We should with that fact in mind, repurpose the fourth of July.  Independence Day needs to be a day not just to celebrate our independence, but one that reminds us to recommit ourselves to those freedoms that this country gained by the Revolution, and all those won since. Maintaining these liberties is a constant struggle, and that sacred struggle is one that all Americans ought to take part in. We can do it in different ways, by activism, voting, sometimes just by letting those in power know we’re watching and paying attention.  When you celebrate America’s independence, remember why it was in the first place that 140 years ago it was so important that so many risked so much for it.  Remember and resolve to keep those American ideals alive in your thoughts and deeds for another year.