PENNING: We need a holiday refocused on liberty

Jul 14, 2011


A small crowd gathered across from the library in Central Park for a “town hall meeting.” The John Adams actor — in period dress as well as frame of mind — held forth on his life and political philosophy for nearly an hour, before taking questions and continuing the conversation even longer. He concluded with a mantra that defined his life and legacy: “independence forever!”

It was noted that he and fellow founding father Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, the day the nation continues to celebrate our independence to this day.
Adams wrote a now-famous letter to his wife, Abigail, noting that the celebrations on July 2, 1776 (the day the Declaration of Independence was  actually signed), would be celebrated for generations. “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more,” he wrote.

That spirit of freedom is the “memory” that Adams brought back for me. But I wonder if the day we celebrate today has the emphasis on freedom that Adams envisioned for future generations.

Most Americans can associate July 4 as Independence Day, the day we celebrate our independence from Britain. But it should be more than an historical fact we recognize on that day; it should be a present reality. The emphasis should not be on freedom from a particular government, but the personal freedom we should enjoy to this day.

Unfortunately, our “sweet land of liberty” has soured a bit from Adams’ day. Our liberties have been slowly eroded. In Adams’ time, the federal government collected no taxes from American citizens.

Today, the federal tax code is seven times longer than the Bible. The federal government actually has too many agencies to count.
It took a study by a center at Louisiana State University to determine there are more than 1,300 agencies and departments across the executive, congressional and judicial branches of government. More are being proposed even now.

While, of course, some of these government departments are necessary and helpful in our more complicated times, much of what they do is place-specific and burdensome regulations on many aspects of our private lives. As Adams pointed out in the park recently, in his day if people needed assistance it was neighbors, the church and philanthropic organizations that stepped up. Now the government is the first stop for assistance — some of it legitimate, but often not.

We also see the loss of freedoms at the state and local levels. Even neighborhood associations prescribe the specific location of fences and height of vegetation.
A study by professors at George Mason University ranked the states in terms of fiscal policy, regulatory policy, economic freedom and personal freedom. Michigan is not the worst, but it ranks near the side of the scale for “least free.”

The study also shows that states that are most free are attracting citizens from states that are less free. The study also showed that more economic freedom is associated with more personal income growth.

Apparently, the spirit of John Adams’ America is alive — among citizens at least.

We are supposed to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” But increasingly we are looking like the land of the regulated and the home of the “entitled.”

Greece — often called the “cradle of democracy” long before the United States began it’s grand experiment in self-government — has been growing its own government involvement and entitlements for the past several decades. It is not working out well there.

Years ago, Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day. Citizens decorated the graves of fallen soldiers, as well as street signs and house porches. But the focus seemed to be more on the decorations than the soldiers they were meant to honor. So the name was changed to Memorial Day to give renewed emphasis to the holiday’s original purpose.

I wonder lately if we should rename Independence Day as “Liberty Day.” Perhaps then citizens and those elected to serve would be reminded that this country is not just about getting out from under the heavy hand of Britain, but to be more free of government intrusion of any kind. In other words, we don’t celebrate the freedom of our government but of individuals and our rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

— By Tim Penning. His columns and other thoughts can be read on his PierPoints blog:


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