On this day, 240 years ago, the visionary gentlemen of the 13 colonies pledged their fortunes and their very lives to the cause of liberty.
Given the incredible forces arrayed against them – the British Navy was the dominant sea force of the time, and the British Army dwarfed the ragtag militia forces which combined to make the Continental Army – their audacity and vision were unbelievable.
Those 56 delegates to the Continental Congress were the co-founders of the greatest and riskiest startup of all time, one in which the battles were drawn not with marketing, product and engineering but with artillery and infantry and navies, in which loss meant not bankruptcy and “working for the man”, but brutal repression and many lives lost.
These founders truly believed in making the world a better place, not the tired line spouted by every startup that creates a new gaming app or development language, but creating real liberty, true representative government that is by its very nature constrained from exercising undue control.
These founders believed that the blessings of liberty would flow not only to the 13 colonies and, eventually, states, but to all mankind by shining the light of liberty across the globe.
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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…
Not all Americans, or all Colonists, or even all British (or “Brittish”) citizens, but all men, all created in God’s image.
These privileges are not granted by sufferance of the ruler or whim of government, but they are “unalienable Rights”.
Government that becomes oppressive, even when claimed for the good of the governed, not only should be changed but is inherently illegitimate; to fight against such government is not wrong or immoral but is “the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.”
The creation of truly liberal – grounded upon individual liberty – government has been a blessing not only for those lucky enough to reside upon the shores of the American continent or carry her citizenship, but for all mankind.
The ideal of a limited, liberal government eventually inspired countless nations around the world to become free. We live in an era when the overwhelming majority of nations are mostly free, a situation I would not have believed in my youth, when free societies were but a handful: the United States and Canada in the Americas; Australia, New Zealand and Japan in Asia; the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, West Germany, the Benelux countries, Italy. Greece, Switzerland in Europe; Israel in the Middle East… and that was it.
Yet when the United States was founded, not one country was free. Even Britain could not be considered truly free; try criticizing King George in 1780 and see how far your freedom of speech went!
Over a period of almost two and a half centuries, the ideal of liberty has grown the moral strength, then the martial strength and the financial strength of the United States, serving as a beacon, a “shining city on a hill”, for the rest of mankind. Eventually, it brought down the repression of the great evil Soviet Union. In time, it may do the same for the remaining repressions of China and most of the Islamic states, whether religious totalitarians like Iran and Saudi Arabia, or the secular repressive states like Syria and Egypt.
It is not the financial strength of the free capitalist system that has served as a role model for other states, although it certainly has been an influence. It is doubtful China would have opened up as it has over the last several decades without seeing how the system enriched the Western democracies.
It is the moral strength of the free system, the guarantee of individual rights of speech, association, religion, property that led to the hope of billions to become free, and many more who either hope for it today, or eventually will.
It is not iPhone or Hyperloop, Levi’s or Carrier air-conditioning, Disney or Universal Studioes that inspire and give meaning to American liberty. These are, indeed, inevitable offshoots of that very liberty. The freedom to think, speak, associate, move, own property and innovate that leads to the incredible growth and blessings of prosperity.
It is the freedoms themselves that are the very end, not the means to the prosperous end.
In the last two weeks, we have seen the very British nation that once oppressed the American colonists express those same sentiments, when they decided that their “Form of Government” became “destructive of those ends”, as only they, the citizens, the People, had the right to determine them, and invoked their right to “alter or abolish” said government.
Fortunately, American liberty has since inspired the British as well and they changed government via referendum and resignation, not rebellion and bloodshed.
Many British citizens are unhappy with the Brexit choice, feel the choice unwise. Indeed, in 1776, many American colonists also felt that the rebels were unwise and foolish, or that the British government deserved the colonists loyalty.
Whether the British were right or wrong on June 23, it is the same animating passion for freedom, learned from the American colonists and held strong for 240 years, that led the British people to decide that they, and only they, had the right to decide whether they were a British state inside the European Union or a fully sovereign British country.
After 240 years of liberty and freedom – with many notorious and terrible episodes along the way perpetuated by both the people and the government – the United States of America has been and remains the beacon, the role model for the liberty of the individual and the moral good, leading to individual benefit and collective good, for all mankind.
May the blessings granted through visionary founders – the liberty to state any opinion no matter how odious, even if it causes hurt and aggression; to associate with people no matter how insubordinate; to practice any religion no matter how strange as long as it does not harm others; to hold true title in your own property; to limit government over and over again – may these liberties grow and inspire and eventually free all of mankind, and continue to keep them free for all eternity.