COLUMBUS, OH – “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” Those are the words that close the Declaration of Independence. They weren’t just words. The 56 men who signed the Declaration believed those words. And they knew that they were literally putting their lives on the line in doing so. It’s easy to look back and think they had nothing to worry about. Easy for us, because we know the outcome. They didn’t.
The men who penned the Declaration believed in liberty and believed in God. That’s why the words, “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” are included in the closing sentence. They believed in God, but also knew they might be killed for their beliefs. They believed in liberty so deeply that they were willing to put everything, everything, on the line in order to find and enjoy it. Those who signed the Declaration also knew who their oppressor was and addressed their grievances directly to him: King George.
I think most people in our nation value their liberty. I think most agree that our liberty is eroding. But, oh, how far we’ve come! In today’s world, I constantly hear that “they” are dictating how we live our lives. “They” say we have to wear face masks, “they” say we have to get vaccinations, “they” say we can’t talk about the 10 Commandments in our schools. This is not a new situation. The “they” who are now telling you to wear a mask are the same “they” who, 10 years ago, told you that you couldn’t smoke a cigarette in a bar. They’re the same “they” who, 20 years ago, told you that you have to wear a seatbelt. They’re the same “they” who, 50 years ago, told you the 10 Commandments had to be removed from the schoolhouse. We have developed a long tradition of giving “they” way too much power.
How did we get to the point where a magical, unseen “they” seem to be running our lives? I think it started in the 1970’s when politicians started to convince people that only big government, centralized in Washington D.C. or Columbus, Ohio could make the BIG decisions. Once they had people convinced that only a large, far away central government could make the big decisions, most people gave up. They gave up because they couldn’t influence politicians who were so far removed from them, in both mind and location. People stopped confronting their school board members or city council members, because when they did so the answer they got was that the policy was determined in Columbus or Washington D.C.
I fear that what so many of us are missing is that the Constitution of the United States opens with the words, “We the People….” Therefore, it appears you and I are “they”. If you and I are “they”, then we can change things. We can reverse the erosion of our liberty. But it can’t be done without sacrifice. Luckily, it is not (yet) necessary to pledge our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor, but you can’t do it sitting behind a keyboard or sending a text message on your phone. I’m not talking about words. I’m talking about action.
When was the last time you stood up on your hind legs and said, “Enough is enough”? When was the last time you raised your voice publicly and said, “No more, I’m not doing that”? Have you ever gone to a school board meeting to question a decision? Have you ever telephoned a city council member to offer your views on a controversial topic? Now is the time to do that.
We should also try to remember this: “they” continue to build power when “we” feel disconnected and alone. In the past year, have you reached out to someone of a different race or ethnic background or sexual orientation and just had a conversation? Not a conversation about a controversial subject, but just a conversation. Just talking can help you find common ground, common interests and help both of you realize that we’re all just human beings. You might be surprised to learn that you have more in common than you imagined.
These things are not easy. But they pale in comparison to the sacrifice offered by the 56 individuals who literally put their lives on the line when they signed our Declaration of Independence.