Why do we celebrate July 4th?

By the rude bridge that arched the flood, Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

“Concord Hymn,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1837


This week we will be celebrating Independence Day as we do every year on July 4th. It will mark the 237th anniversary of “the shot heard round the world.” Revolution ensued, with the insurgents risking their fortunes, their very lives and the lives of their families, all because of the truths that they and we to this day hold to be self-evident. There are few people today that could put themselves in their shoes. Imagine a citizenry willing to lay their lives on the line for principle. When we talk about revolution today, we really don’t know from whence we speak. Whenever I utter the word “tyranny” in polite company, I get blank stares or rolling eyes. Try it sometime, I dare you.

The immediate spark that ignited the Revolutionary War was the attempt by the British crown to disarm the colonists. You know, gun control. But there were other important catalysts, prominent among them was “taxation without representation.” This incited “the destruction of the tea,” as it was called in 1773, and what we today call the Boston Tea Party.

The Boston Tea Party is as iconic and American an event as the shot heard ‘round the world. How ironic that today Tea Party groups are targeted by the IRS. The more things change, the more they stay the same. With apologies to Mark Twain, history doesn’t repeat, but it sure does rhyme. And anyone who doesn’t study history is doomed to be a poet.

If you need further irony, a recent Rasmussen poll, published on June 27th, revealed that among those who identify themselves as supporters of President Obama, 26 percent view the Tea Party as our nation’s top terror threat. Where would anyone get such a silly idea? For those folks history is beginning to rhyme. And then of course, an even more recent Rasmussen poll, published on July 1st, reveals that the number of Obama supporters is dropping like a rock, declining by more than 10 percentage points since May.

So why do we celebrate July 4th? Because a group of revolutionaries won a war for independence from a tyrannical king some 237 years ago? What we celebrate is what ensued from that point in history: for the first time, a nation was founded on the principles of individual freedom, as set forth first in the Declaration of Independence and then the Constitution. It is what makes America different. The purpose of our government is simply to protect our unalienable rights.

And yet there is a school of thought that believes that the Constitution is outdated. Here’s a disturbing quote from David A. Strauss, professor of law at the University of Chicago and author of the book “The Living Constitution.” He writes: “Our written Constitution was adopted [more than] 220 years ago. Meanwhile, the world has changed in incalculable ways. The nation has grown in territory and its population has multiplied several times over. Technology has changed, the international situation has changed, the economy has changed, social mores have changed, all in ways that no one could have foreseen when the Constitution was drafted. And it is just not realistic to expect the cumbersome amendment process to keep up with these changes.”

So, if it’s not as convenient as a frozen dinner, I guess it’s no longer relevant. Folks like me that think the Constitution is one of the most remarkable documents ever written are simply labeled “originalists.” Might as well call me a “tenther” too. The “Living” Constitution sounds so poetic, but it’s just another hijack of the language by statists who believe government’s purpose is to restrict individual freedom.

The Constitution isn’t outmoded by the fact that we drive cars, watch television or have a smart phone. These are cosmetic and superficial changes. The Constitution deals with human nature, human rights and the nature of government – and these simply don’t change – not in a mere 225 years. The Hebrew calendar goes back 5,722 years. Human nature has not changed a lot over that period. People still have families, there is still good and evil and the 10 Commandments still make sense.

I hope that everyone has a great 4th of July. And over the extended holiday weekend, take a little time to look over the Constitution. It doesn’t take that long; it’s written in plain English and it is a great read. And if you’re in the mood for poetry, I highly recommend Ralph Waldo Emerson.


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