A HOUSE DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF CANNOT STAND
As we prepare for our annual Independence Day celebrations, it occurred to me that this year, more than most, we should take a moment to reflect on the reason we have this national day of recognition. At this time, we pay homage to the brave souls who fought so hard against overwhelming odds to break free of the chains of servitude to a king whose power was not earned or even granted to him by “his” people but rather flowed through his ancestors to him as part of a royal birthright.
We declared our independence as a free and sovereign nation—no longer subservient to a single person, royal family or foreign country, but rather to be governed, as Abraham Lincoln said almost 100 years later, " … of the people, by the people, for the people … ."
As revolutionary and exemplary as our constitution was, it took some time and a number of amendments to get it to where it is today. Rights and freedoms and other bits of fine-tuning were added with 27 amendments. Some took only a few months to pass, while one—the 27th—took more than 200 years to be ratified. (Is it surprising that the 27th Amendment relates to when laws affecting Congressional salaries take effect?)
On this day, we should be proud and humbled that other countries have used our constitution as a guide when they gained independence and needed to construct a similar document. Nations that predate ours have made less progress for their people over more time.
Even with the readily apparent success that the “American Experiment” has achieved, the path to where we are today has not been straight and level. There have been missteps, barriers and delays, as with all great journeys, and there will always be a need for Americans to work together on new and serious challenges that litter the path into the future.
So, why is this Independence Day different than most others? In my mind, this difference is simply because of the great degree of social and political strife we see today, and that seems unusual compared with the past. Whether it’s reality or perception, the discord in America seems to increase daily and simultaneously stems from, and feeds, the wanton disregard of others’ rights—simply because they disagree with the opinions of another. There are so many points of contention among groups and individuals who have a multitude of perspectives and agendas, many of which are petty; and the divergent opinions are expressed so vociferously and emotionally that it’s often difficult to find topics and causes we can agree on.
While we still have the right to disagree with each other, one might expect more unity to come from a people who share and enjoy the rights and freedoms that were earned and preserved for us and our descendants at such a great cost. With today’s fixation on individual rights and the precedence of one’s own desires and opinions over the whole, we are called to remember a passage Lincoln borrowed from the Bible when he made his “House Divided” speech. Thinking about this year’s Independence Day reminds me, more than ever, that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Because we are independent of foreign masters, the freedoms, rights and privileges we have could be lost by our own hand because of our lost vision as a nation, particularly of that simple principle of majority rule. We see all too often today that public policy and political processes are being driven by a very small, but vocal and media-savvy, contingent of people who think the country should be reshaped to their design. In effect, to use the words of Walt Kelly, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
On this Independence Day, let’s recall the dedication to the greater good that the founding fathers and their followers shared and worked toward and find ways in which we can do the same to preserve the way of life that makes the United States of America the exemplary nation it is.
Then, we can focus on the highly anticipated trips to the beach, as well as backyard cookouts and get-togethers with family and friends.
Have a safe and happy Independence Day.