If you were to ask a person from almost anywhere on the political spectrum what the defining characteristic of America is, they would likely refer to our tradition of freedom. Certainly, that is the greatest element of our American heritage.
But what is it that defines the American tradition of freedom?
While everyone would no doubt have a slightly unique take, the basic political philosophy that our nation was built on is seen in our founding documents.
This famous passage from the Declaration of Independence could be considered the cornerstone of the American nation:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
We are probably all very familiar with these words, but we need to keep in mind how revolutionary this philosophy was (no pun intended).
America was founded on the belief that individual rights are not granted by government, but by mankind’s Creator. The government does not grant us the rights and the government does not have the right to take them away, no matter how beneficial they think it may be. The men who founded our nation declared the rights of Americans to be unalienable. They crafted the Bill of Rights, contained in the first 10 amendments of the Constitution, to ensure the governmental recognition of certain rights. Government, in its proper place, is the guardian, not the giver, of freedom.
As an 18 year old, I’m excited to be able to take part in the political process, because we have been given a legacy that is worth preserving.
I would encourage everyone, especially my fellow high school-age students who are reaching the voting age, to read and reread the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution until you know and understand the beliefs, principles and laws that America was founded on. It is also well worth our time to dig into documents and letters from the founders pertaining to the founding of America.
We often tell students that the study of history is important in order to learn from – and avoid – the mistakes of our forbearers. That’s logical reasoning. In fact, if I had been told that others had, upon occasion, suffered from licking the frost off of metal objects in places like Fairbanks in the dead of winter, I might not have gotten “super glued” to a propane tank. (My intelligence in licking any propane tank is beside the point – or is it?)
It’s also important to study history to learn from our triumphs.
As Americans, we have been left an incredible legacy in the political and moral philosophy embraced by our founders. It was passed on to us through the Constitution, and every American should be engaged in the study and preservation of the ideas and principles that formed this great nation.
Unfortunately, many of our leaders today are calling for restrictions on the basic rights guaranteed to Americans in the Constitution. We are seeing a government nationalizing portion after portion of our economy and businesses – all in the name of financial security.
Walking hand-in-hand with this economic socialism is a federalization of freedom. The government is leaning toward a belief that the citizens belong to the government, which means that any rights we have are courtesy of the government. This view is a complete contradiction of what the founders believed. The American government was not intended to control the people as if the people belonged to it. The government belongs to the people. It is for the purpose of defending the citizens and the Constitution, and for punishing wrongdoers.
When we see the government trying to tell parents how to raise their children, we need to remind our elected representatives that children are born to parents, not to an agency.
When we see the government trying to restrict the right to bear arms in the name of safety, (which is hardly a plausible argument), we need to keep in mind these words attributed to Ben Franklin:
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety?”
America’s greatness doesn’t lie in our military being the best in the world, or in managing far more wealth than any other nation. Our greatness lies in the principles on which we were founded. It isn’t money or power that the thousands of men in uniform have given their lives for. It is for an America where all are equal and free; where all have the chance to work hard toward prosperity.
That is something worth fighting for.
Barnabas Firth lives with his mother, father and seven brothers and sisters in a cabin near Blackwater Bend. He enjoys music, astronomy and has a particular interest in all things political.
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