Celebrating America's Birthday
On July 4, 2007, America celebrates yet another birthday, marking 231 years of unparalleled freedom and prosperity. To whom do we owe thanks for the liberties we enjoy? Ask the average person today, and you'll get a variety of answers:
- Those who drafted such documents as the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, our "Founding Fathers."
- The rag-tag Continental Army that fought against the greatest military power of the day to secure our freedom.
- The immigrants who left home and family to forge new and better lives in a new world.
- The pioneers and adventurers who pushed ever onward, until a handful of colonies became the fifty states we know today.
- The heroes and heroines of America's past, from George Washington to Patrick Henry, from Abraham Lincoln to Robert E. Lee, from Betsy Ross to Susan B. Anthony.
- The American soldiers who even today stand ready to defend us, even if in so doing they must lay down their own lives.
And, indeed, each of these answers has merit. But could we ask the Founding Fathers, we might well get another answer ... an answer none too popular in the modern era of pluralism and political correctness. For America's founders, you see, consistently credited the fledgling nation's success to none other than their Creator.
"It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God," George Washington proclaimed, calling for a national day of Thanksgiving and alleging that it was the duty of nations to "obey his [Almighty God's] will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor."
For what specifically did Washington thank God and admonish America's citizens to do the same? A copy of the proclamation published in the Oct. 14, 1789, issue of The Massachusetts Centinel outlines the following "signal favors of Almighty God":
- His affording Americans the opportunity to "establish a form of government for their safety and happiness";
- "His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation";
- "The favorable interpositions of his providence in the course and conclusion of the late war";
- The tranquility, union and abundance the nation enjoyed immediately after its independence had been secured;
- The "peaceable and rational manner" in which the nation's founders were able to settle upon a governing constitution;
- The civil and religious liberty American citizens enjoyed;
- "And, in general, for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us."
Nor did Washington's views change over the course of his political career. As he stepped down from the nation's highest office, he once again seized upon the opportunity to remind citizens that faith served as a cornerstone of freedom. "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports," he wrote in his farewell address. Furthermore, he contended, religion served as the bedrock of morality. "Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle," he wrote.
Was Washington unique in his beliefs? Hardly. While the Founding Fathers adamantly rejected state imposition of religion, the overwhelming majority professed belief in God, and their public and private correspondence alike leaves little question that they believed America's success ultimately hinged on nothing less than the favor of God.
In his famous "Give me liberty or give me death!" oration, Patrick Henry called on his compatriots to fight and pray, "If we wish to be free -- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending -- if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained -- we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!" And lest the casual reader assume that this "appeal to the God of hosts" was a mere afterthought, it should be noted that Henry further asserted "Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us."
At the height of the Revolution, Governor John Andrew called on the citizens of Massachusetts to spend Thursday, April 5, 1775, in prayer and fasting. "Let us recognize the Providence of the Almighty Ruler of Heaven and Earth in the affairs of Nations and of Men," he wrote. "Let us carry on our hearts before Him who is 'no respector of persons' the cause of our Country, the rights and welfare of all her people."
On the very day the Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, "[July 4th] ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty."
And as a young nation sought to evolve from the ruins of war, Benjamin Franklin addressed the following words to the Continental Congress: "God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel."
In another instance, when the Continental Congress appeared to be at an impasse, Franklin implored them to turn to God. "In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection," he stated. "Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. Do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?"
In later years, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "God who gave us life gave us liberty."
"And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God?" he questioned.
As we celebrate our nation's birthday and anticipate her future, may we pause to contemplate her past. And may we take time this Independence Day to thank the Source of our freedom.