The further you are removed from an event, the more the perspective regarding it changes. These days, we are so many generations removed from the American Revolution that we all truly don’t know what we are celebrating on July 4th. Sure there are buzzwords – freedom and liberty, red coats and patriots. We may even watch Mel Gibson go savage with a hatchet on some unsuspecting loyalists. But the question should sincerely be raised, why do we even celebrate this anymore?
Many cynics will just admonish the cookouts and beer drinking as irreverent. Others will wholeheartedly speak words of gratitude to our brave veterans or give thanks to our American way of life. But still the question resounds, why are we celebrating? What is this American way of life?
While some will say it’s not about the cookouts, actually that is exactly what it is about in part. Americans are free to take a leisurely Tuesday off from work, grill out with friends and family, and enjoy a cold beer – all because of the American way. Fireworks will burst in air, a symbol of the war we fought to give freedoms to all. Yet through all of the celebrations, media coverage, and festive events, almost no-one will ask: why are we celebrating?
Was it just meant to be?
I recall sitting through years of classes in public schools talking about the American Revolution. George Washington and John Adams, among countless others, led a charge against potentially the greatest super power of all time, to free thirteen rambunctious colonies. I learned about muskets, Paul Revere, and a tax on tea, but it was all so foreign and abstract. An inevitable action taken by a few men that, obviously, would just lead to a free nation. Modern amenities are just the natural byproduct of a rebellion more than 200 years ago. It just seems…like ancient history.
It’s during these times of thinking about a time so long ago that I find myself attempting to put myself in their shoes. You see, it’s extremely natural to think of historical events through modern context. In hindsight, the American Revolution makes so much since. Taxation without representation, right? We beat those British, and established a fully-functioning nation in just a mere decade. That’s just how it was always meant to be.
However, none of it is probable. Waging war against the British in and of itself was an absurd decision. Winning that war was absolutely impossible. Then, after winning, to establish a government of the people? You’ve got to be kidding me. Impossible. Britain dominated foreign lands, wielded the largest naval fleet, and ruled many other nations with relative ease (as far as empire building goes.)
Sure, it was a long-shot. But aside from the odds was what the actions of the Founders really meant to society – not to just the future American society, or the contemporary British society of the time – no, to human society as a whole. The history books are littered with the direst plight of humanity. Oppressors – whether they went by the title of king, dictator, or ruler – plagued humanity. As people were born, their lives were predetermined by another man. Bloodlines dominated the landscape as the wealthy ruling class enslaved the poor working class. The everyday life of a man or woman, born from the inception of humanity to the American Revolution, was a dark shadow of indentured servitude in one form or another. The fruits of ones labors was entitled to another based solely on birthright.
Insert Natural Law
However, the Founders had something else in mind. Basing their beliefs on free thinking philosophers such as John Locke, they subscribed to the idea of natural law. A law that wasn’t of man but of God – Divine providence. A law that applied to all men equally. Regardless of your birthright or societal stature, you were subjected to the same laws of nature as the simplest farmer or cobbler. The idea that men were capable of running their own lives without permission from another man – a king or despot.
The potential that unfolded from the unshackling of man’s spirit is what propelled the entire world forward a millennium. Unlocking human potential was something never before seen in the way our Founders envisioned. The idea caught fire and all but extinguished monarchies and rulers across Europe and Asia.
Allowing man to be free to own property, protect it and themselves, and pursue dreams and aspirations has led to the greatest achievements in all of history. Technology, medical advances, and all of the comforts enjoyed at a July 4th cookout come from the legacy of freedom. Capitalism, after all, can only exist as the product of free spirits, free people, and free markets.
It’s this freedom that should be celebrated on the 4th of July. It should not however, be celebrated through the context of modern eyes. It should instead be celebrated through the eyes of history. The American Revolution was an extremely risky experiment in freeing humanity and forever altered the entire course of human history. Sure, we are free now, and that is something to celebrate. But more than that, we are improbably free, and we should be in awe of how miraculous that truly is.