Each Independence Day I think of my ancestor Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Two centuries and numerous generations later, I take great inspiration from what he and his colleagues did in the summer of 1776.
Just imagine how different the world would be had they not approached independence with a passionate commitment to liberty.
What if on Friday, July 5, 1776, the men who approved the Declaration of Independence casually headed home thinking their work to be done? Sure, they had declared in high-minded rhetoric the equality of men and extolled the inalienable rights to life and liberty. And it must have felt good to vent their frustrations about the king.
But what if each of them decided the talk of liberty shouldn’t inconvenience anyone too much that weekend?
Alas, there would have been no “new nation, conceived in liberty.” Rather than Old Glory, our public spaces would today be festooned with the Union Jack – or worse. The world would be a darker place.
Yet to a man they put their names to that bold pledge of their “lives… fortunes… and sacred honor” to the cause of independence. There were no limits to that pledge; for them, everything was on the line.
They saw the fight for political liberty as inextricably linked to providing for their families, serving in their churches, and ensuring the long-term prosperity of their communities.
They didn’t know if they would be hung the next week, bankrupted the next month, expelled from social circles the next year, or lost forever in the ash heap of history. But they believed in the righteousness of the cause. They knew liberty, as messy and inconvenient as it might sometimes be, was worth it for themselves and their posterity.
Let us also not forget that it wasn’t just those 56 signers who birthed our nation more than two centuries ago. Tens of thousands fought against the crown and for liberty, thereby giving life to our constitutional republic.
Over the course of the War of Independence, the fields of America were watered by the blood of men young and old who believed dying for the chance of a messy liberty was better than living under the yoke of cultured tyranny. Even as so many of their names have faded into history, their legacy is a brilliant city set shining upon a hill to inspire the world. They gave their lives to the cause of securing the blessings of liberty.
That is what they were willing to do the day after the Fourth of July in 1776.
So this year, once the parades conclude, BBQs end, and fireworks explode, what will we do for the cause of liberty on the Fifth of July? That’s the day that counts, and each day after. While it’s good to celebrate our national independence, we must daily take action to expand liberty for ourselves and our posterity.
The cause of liberty — in our cities, counties, schools, state, and nation — needs us more than ever. And it is still worth it.