1776. The Declaration of Independence. The Birth of a Nation – my Nation. That is what we are celebrating this weekend. I have always considered myself to be a patriotic person, but with all the *crud* that is constantly roiling our political world, I feel the need to share a few thoughts about the Founding.
When I was a little guy – I believe it was 4th grade – we had a special singing group called the “Freedom Singers.” We learned a handful of patriotic tunes and went to places like nursing homes and hospitals and entertained people. I had a cool little red, white and blue striped vest and a white turtleneck shirt. I looked pretty dapper. Those patriotic songs became emblazoned on my young brain. To this day, if I anyone ever needs to know the names of all fifty states – in alphabetical order – I’m your man, thanks to the song “Fifty, Nifty United States.” (Link)
I cheered with twenty guys who were crammed into a dorm room at BYU when the underdog USA hockey team upset the Soviets in the Olympics. I cheered when Rocky beat Drago. I fretted as the helicopters left Saigon. I celebrated the Bi-Centennial along with the rest of the Nation. I wept on 9/11. This is my country, land that I love.
I have been to 5 of the seven continents and have seen a lot of the world, and there’s no place like home. This is home. I love the United States – warts and all. I love what it stands for. I love how it came to be.
It is that last topic that causes me some concern. I have watched as some have made it their goal to tear down those people who were responsible for the founding of America. They work to point out their human frailties and errors to somehow delegitimize the importance and sacredness of what they accomplished. Yes, sacredness.
First, it makes me crazy when people apply today’s cultural standards to people who lived in other times. (This is called “presentism,” and if you would like to know more about it, read this post.) It is true that many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves, but in 1776 slavery was part of life -even the African tribes where the slaves came from bought and sold slaves from each other. (I have an ancestor that was an “indentured servant” and he was from Ireland.) It is entirely unfair to use this long-abandoned practice to diminish people who were living the normal standard of their time – even though now we rightly see it as detestable. (And easy example of this unfairness is when people blame Columbus for causing genocide, when he lived in a time before “germ theory” had even been proposed yet.)
They were also imperfect men. They did make mistakes. They did sin. They did fall and rise like all of God’s children, but that did not make what they did any less important, or miraculous.
Second, I don’t believe that the basics of patriotism and respect for the country, flag and its founders are taught much anymore. People chat through the National Anthem. They burn flags. Not participating in the Pledge of Allegiance can garner praise for being courageous. Where patriotism was expected and admired in my generation, it is now more of an afterthought to many, and in the education of our youth. When that happens, more responsibility falls on us, the family to keep those treasured fires burning.
If you think I sound old, and old-fashioned, you nailed it.
Over the course of several days in 1776, 56 men gathered in a small room in Philadelphia and signed the Declaration of Independence. They might as well have been signing their own death warrants for treason to the Crown…
…but they signed anyway.
They were farmers, merchants, ministers, physicians, and of course a whole bunch of lawyers. (link) They were smart guys. 31 of them had been to college. (link)They were also Christians. All of them. You wouldn’t think that was the case nowadays by how history is being re-written, but it is an integral part of what happened. You see, God was at the helm of this “Great Experiment.” This land was settled and this nation created for God’s grand purposes. The players mattered.
Elder L. Tom Perry taught, “The success of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War came through men who were raised up by God for this very special purpose. One must merely read the Declaration of Independence to feel its inspiration. One must merely study history to know that to defeat the world’s most powerful country by a group of fledgling colonies was a result of a force greater than man.” (link)
Is there anyone out there who has not heard the musical Hamilton? Lin Manuel Miranda echoed these words in the lyric: “What are the odds the gods would put us all in one spot?” (link)
Don’t tell Lin Manuel, but Elder Perry said it first, “Where else in the world do we find a group of men together in one place at one time who possessed greater capacity and wisdom than did the founding fathers—Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and others?” (link)
Further down the road, the Lord Himself explains his involvement in preparing the way for the writing of the US Constitution,
“And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.” (D&C 101:80)
The Lord states quite clearly that HE established the Constitution, which, to me, makes it a sacred document. The Lord has also said, “Trifle not with sacred things.” (link) The Constitution was not the result of a bunch of womanizing, barbaric slave-holders who were in it for the money. This “Chosen Land” was the result of the dominos the Lord set in motion all the way back to where it all began. (In what is now called Missouri.)
The founding of the United States of America also allowed something sacred and monumental to occur: The restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The religious freedom and climate came about precisely because of what the Founding Fathers accomplished, with the Lord’s help.
“We believe that both America’s freedom and the continuing reformation that flourished here occurred in preparation for the restoration from heaven of the full gospel of Jesus Christ. That restoration took place in the 1820s through a man named Joseph Smith..” (Elder Perry)
If there was no revolution, there would be no Constitution. With no Constitution there would be no religious freedom. With no religious freedom, the conditions necessary for Joseph Smith to enter a grove of trees to pray would not have existed, nor would the freedom been available to organize the Church. Imagine an elaborate series of dominos, lined up to get to that precise moment. It is both beautiful and humbling.
Here is my plea to you: If you have fallen out of love with America, fall in love with her again. See the birth of our Nation through God’s eyes. Take a hard look at how it came about – how it is supposed to be – not what it has become. You will see God’s hand everywhere.
Here are some suggestions:
Read “1776” by David McCullough. It is mostly about the war, but it does a remarkable job in describing just what a miracle the winning of the Revolutionary war really was – rather a constant stream of small and large miracles. If you have read it, or want something else to read, here is a list of the top 100 books about the American Revolution: (link)
Listen to Hamilton, the musical. It is a bit coarse in places, but you can download an edited version.. (Available on iTunes) I know it has been trendy to love Hamilton, but it is loved for a reason. It gives life to these characters from our history. If you would rather skip the rap and go straight to the source material, read the biography “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow. (link) It is excellent.
Or, if you are a Netflix binge-watcher, check out the first three seasons of “Turn: Washington’s Spies.” It is awesome and a lot of it is true to the history. It shows the risks and sacrifices made by the patriots who fought for our freedom. We loved it.
Track down and watch the HBO mini-series John Adams, starring Paul Giamatti. It was well done and really brought home the risks these brave men took to support the Revolution, and how much they had to lose. It resonated with me because I have been asked to sacrifice so little…
Travel. One of the great spiritual surprises I have ever encountered was the way I felt when walking across the Concord Bridge – where the “Shot heard ’round the world” launched the Revolutionary War. Both Chrissie and I were stunned by the sacredness we felt – even akin to what we feel when entering a temple. Sure, you can go to Disneyland. Again. But traveling through US history sites is amazing, and enlightening.
Finally, read any/all of these articles from Church leaders and publications:
“The Divinely Inspired Constitution.” Dallin H. Oaks
“Defending Our Divinely Inspired Constitution,” Dallin H. Oaks
“Wise Men Raised Up.” Ensign, June 1976
“Our Divine Constitution.” Ezra Taft Benson
“The Church and the American Bicentennial” L. Tom Perry, BYU speech
“America’s Fate and Ultimate Destiny.” Marion G.Romney, BYU speech.
Did you ever stop to consider that the song “God Bless America” is a prayer?
God bless America,
Land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above;
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
My home, sweet home.
God bless America,
My home, sweet home.
This is my prayer, too. May your celebration of Independence Day be more that hot dogs, fireworks and glorious air conditioning.
My best wishes to you.
(My apologies to all my readers who do not live in the United States. It may not be your country, but you benefit from it every day.)