What Is This America of Ours?

What is one thing all around us that few see?  Our history.  Every street name, neighborhood plat, and winding trail is steeped with choices from the past whose meanings time has rendered invisible.  Our towns and cities are carved with roads named after prominent historical figures now forgotten.  Our hills, parks, and cemeteries honor many now unknown.  It is a peculiar fact of life that we at once stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and often don't look down to honor those whose choices lift us up.  

G.K. Chesterton once remarked: "Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.  It is the democracy of the dead.  Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about."  A modern Democrat might not take much from that wisdom other than the idea that more votes from dead Americans should be included in the next election.  For American conservatives, however, Chesterton's words are a welcome reminder never to take for granted what may have been won at dear cost in the not-so-distant past.

It is also true that, whereas a conservative in Britain may have a vested interest in protecting the traditions and institutions of aristocracy and monarchy, a conservative in America has a vested interest in the town hall, free speech, limited government, private property, and expansive personal liberty.  When we look back at the figures from our past whose names still linger on our maps, freedom-minded Americans know that heroes came before us to remake the world these last two and a half centuries.  With blood and courage and perseverance, America's ancestors sank deep into the rock of the new world a flag of stars and stripes attesting to their commitment to advance human liberty and promising their lives in the bargain for its preservation.  What is this America of ours?  It is a place soaked in the sacrifice of those yearning to be free.

To...be...free.  Just saying those words out loud connects us to our past.  Think of all the Europeans fleeing religious persecution at home who ventured out into the open sea to reach an unknown land fraught with danger and uncertainty.  Why did they put their lives in such peril if not to be free?  Think of all the poor colonists and indentured servants who arrived on these shores with nothing of value to sustain them.  Why did they take such huge leaps of faith if not to one day be free?  Think of how daunting it would have been to stand up to a sea of redcoats from the finest army ever marshaled in defense of the most powerful empire the world had ever seen.  Why did fourteen-year-old boys stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their fathers on open fields facing overwhelming odds if not for the ethereal yet intoxicating dream to be free?

There are those in America who work to bring her down by tarnishing her past.  In private committee meetings that have superseded democracy's town hall, they slyly erase the historical names from our maps, often replacing them with symbols of division or spite.  They mock those who love freedom because freedom has been given to them cheaply.  They twist the sacrifices of the past with endless lists of new grievances.  They choose to see only the sins of slavery rather than the virtues of a Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution that laid the groundwork for slavery's eventual and glorious annihilation.  They demean words such as "patriot" and "duty" and "conscience."  And they stare at the past in judgment without ever taking the time to comprehend.  Without any understanding of what came before them and without any acknowledgment of the profound struggles that made their lives possible today, they offend anyone who has ever lost another fighting the enduring fight just to be free.

I will tell you now that these people will not last, because they are not made from hearty stock.  Their blandness makes them suited for tranquil times, when the tepid find themselves "in charge."  Though they be in charge, they do not lead.  The courageous lead by taking charge, and when they do, the tepid retreat in wait for tranquility once again.  Because freedom is never free, only the brave ante up when life and lives are on the line.  That's the way it's always been.

It is easy to get lost in the world today because so many Americans have stopped learning why the names on our maps were recorded for us to find.  We are drowned, instead, with endless commentary promising the "end of America" or a "new world order" or the "Chinese century" or some such rubbish.  Do not let your mind be fooled by the words of the weak and wicked.  America can't end until freedom ends, and freedom won't end until the people first have their say.  

So many look around at the chaos today and assume all is lost.  Allow me to repeat a secret once told to me: feeling afraid and unmoored means that the battle is beginning, not ending.  If the war for freedom had already come and gone, you would know it because you would either be filled with elation or consumed with defeat.  It is only in our dread that we realize the rumblings of conflict still lay ahead, when we feel the misery of uncertainty hollowing out what normally keeps us sturdy.  Embrace that uneasiness; it means you know what's at stake is nothing less than the struggle to remain free.

Whenever I overhear someone saying, "America is over," I am reminded of a story I once came across (whose source I can't now find, as it is buried in some stack of papers).  The story goes that after America's War for Independence, a Philadelphia merchant was so certain that the new nation would eventually crumble that he forestalled any improvements on his business, not wanting to sink costs into anything that might lose value once the British returned.  He was persistent in his belief for years, telling others they were crazy to risk their saved capital in any new ventures when everything was destined to be lost.  During the immediate post-war years, the American economy was in shambles, and the pessimistic merchant felt very confident in his assertions.  Then America's fortunes began to pick up, and still his once thriving business sat empty.  Finally, when the War of 1812 had begun, he grabbed anybody who would listen and screamed, "I told you this new nation would never last."  He died a pauper.

To those who believe freedom will not last, have a little faith.  Free America is not just some description from the past.  It's a rallying cry.  It's a promise passed down from one generation to the next.  It's why so many Americans today have that queasy feeling in the pits of their stomachs.  It's because the land of the free only survives as a home for the brave.  And America is home to an embarrassingly large number of brave people.  Should you need any reminders, take a hard look at all the names on your map.  Happy Independence Day!

Image: Pashi via Pixabay, Pixabay License.

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