On a warm summer afternoon, June 30, 1826, nearly fifty years to the day of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a small, informal delegation led by the Reverend George Whitney paid a visit to 90 year-old John Adams in his Quincy, Massachusetts home. In four days the town would celebrate half a century of freedom from British rule.
Though the Founding Father was very old and feeble, and certainly unable to attend the ceremony, the delegation sought from him a toast to be read on his behalf. Seated in his library, the former President gave them a simple phrase, “Independence forever!” Astounded, the visitors asked if he might like to add something to his meager statement, to which Adams replied, “Not a word.”
What President Adams understood, that his visitors obviously did not, was that his toast was far from simple; it was a powerful declaration of American sovereignty. Such a treasure was priceless and Adams had lived through the entire struggle to gain it. He desired nothing more than to see the United States of America, a free and independent nation, endure throughout the ages.
If he could only peer down from his eternal rest in Heaven to see how we have treated such a gift.
As a historian of American politics, I am sometimes asked what the Founders would think about the sad state of American society today. My answer is always the same. I wholeheartedly believe they would be mortified to learn that for all they sacrificed and fought for, to provide a strong, prosperous, free country for all those “millions yet unborn,” that it had been squandered so selfishly.
Though a Federalist, John Adams was as strong an advocate for American independence as any and did not want the new nation shackled to either Britain or France. He believed that it was his solemn duty to study politics and war, in order to defeat America’s enemies and build an independent nation, so that his children would have the liberty to study math and philosophy, who in turn would be able to give their children the right to study sculpture, painting, poetry, and the other fine arts.
He, along with our other Founders, pledged to each other their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor,” to establish what Thomas Jefferson called an “empire of liberty.” Had the American Revolution failed, they all surely would have been executed for their treason. Yet the thought of being hung, drawn, and quartered did not deter them from rising up against the world’s most powerful empire.
Today we seem to have taken such a wondrous gift for granted, content to sell our birthright of independence and liberty for a mess of pottage – massive taxation aimed directly at the people’s pocketbook, rampant government spending for such goodies as “free” healthcare and scores of social programs, attachments to international banks and a global financial system, and an entangling foreign policy that oftentimes resembles an international “meals on wheels” outfit rather than a force for national defense.
Many of our fellow citizens seem to care not at all about the history of our great country or what it has become, so long as they continue to benefit from the generosity of Washington.
I think it’s interesting to gain the perspective of foreigners about the American experiment in liberty, for they are free of our preconceived notions and biases formed from our lack of knowledge of our own history, trashed as it is in our government schools.
The late, Australian-born actor Heath Ledger starred in the Mel Gibson epic, “The Patriot,” a revolutionary war film based on the Swamp Fox, Francis Marion, whose guerilla campaign in the South helped to win the fight against Britain. After filming the movie, the young 21-year old came to respect his adopted country, saying that he understood why Americans “wave their flag so high and proud. It’s because they went to hell and back, to build their country.”
Indeed our ancestors did. In a letter to his beloved Abigail, John Adams spoke directly to us about the price that was paid so that we may live in liberty and independence: “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it! If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”
So let us honor the sacrifice of our founding generation by making good use of their gift of freedom. Let us restore our republic, cut the ties that bind us, and take as our mantra: Independence Forever!
This column appeared in the Laurel Leader Call (Laurel, MS) on July 3, 2012.