By J. Kenneth Doty
As time has led us farther and farther into the distance from the past, many people are found treating lightly or even being critical of the concepts, morals, and ideals of those who went before us.
Patriotism has become passé. Established laws and mores are pooh-poohed. Vandalism of monuments to our nation and our nation’s heroes and our founding fathers is rampant. A strong military defense is ridiculed and military service is discredited. This is terrible. We are too easily consumed by our current personal problems, which cause us to forget what we have and how we got to where we are.
We live in the greatest nation in the world. We live in an environment of the greatest freedom the world has ever known. We enjoy the greatest comforts, the greatest standard of living, the greatest levels of education, and the greatest religious freedom in this world.
How did we become so blessed? Because men and women of the past created a nation, a government, and a society that lets us live the way we do today. In short, we all drink from wells we never dug.
We need to take time to reflect upon those founding fathers of our country and the pioneers who came to this land and scattered themselves across it to build what we now enjoy. We need to give a quiet thanks for the wells dug, the roads, and the bridges, and the fences they built. We need to remember the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution they established to guarantee our rights, our freedoms, and our liberty.
Yes, I am talking patriotism. Yes, I am talking respect for heritage.
The dictionary describes patriotism as “love and loyal or zealous support of one’s country.”
G.K. Chesterton once said: “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up.”
Another great philosopher, Alexander Pope, said: “Be not the first by whom the new are tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside.”
The crux of this matter is the difference between principle and preference. Laws of nature and truth are immutable, no matter how we may wish it otherwise, or how hard we may try to change them.
“Every generation a new crop of fools come on. They think they can beat the orderly universe. They conceive themselves to be more clever than the eternal laws. They snatch goods from nature’s store and run… and one by one they all come back to nature’s counter and pay… pay in tears, in agony, in despair; pay as fools before them have paid. Nature keeps books pitilessly. Your credit with her is good, but she collects; there is no land you can flee to and escape her bailiffs… she never forgets; she sees to it that you pay her ever cent you owe, with interest,” said Frank Crane.
Richard L. Evans stated, “Without law, respect for it, living by it, upholding it, we would have no heritage. Law sustains life. Law keeps the universe in its course. Law assures that orderly processes will lead to known results. Without law, men, nature – life – would be in complete chaos. Then why, oh why, would there be looseness pertaining to law – failure to uphold it?”
I, therefore, recommend that we make it a lifetime endeavor to learn all we can about our heritage. We should take time to read about our nation’s history and about the individuals who created. I have found great motivation reading of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and other patriots of their time. Nathan Hale declared as he was being hung, “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country!”
Stephen Decatur, declaring as he was called upon to surrender his ship, “We have just begun to fight!”
Have you ever wondered what happened to the signers of the Declaration of Independence? That was the act that branded them traitors in the eyes of the British Empire. These men signed their names to a document declaring: “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.”
Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and were tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the revolutionary army. Another had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or hardships of the war.
What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers or jurists. Eleven were merchants. Nine were farmers and large plantation owners, men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in rags.
Thomas McKean was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the congress without pay and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him and poverty was his reward.
Vandals, soldiers, or both, looted the properties of Clymet, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.
At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr. noticed that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The owner quietly urged General Washington, which was done. The home was destroyed and Nelson died bankrupt.
Francis Lewis had his home and his properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife and soon after, she died.
John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she lay dying. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home after the war to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later, he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.
Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.
Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolutionaries. These were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged, “For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
I believe we can gain great insight into the importance of our heritage by visiting the historical memorials throughout our nation. I shall never forget the inspirational awe I felt in a visit to our nation’s capital where I went to the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington memorials and the Arlington National Cemetery with its tombs of the unknown soldiers. I have visited the Punch Bowl National Cemetery in hawaii, where I found the names of some of my shipmates from World War II who were lost at sea. It is one of my most sacred and cherished memories.
I believe we should give thanks daily in our prayers to our Heavenly Father for our heritage and for the blessings we enjoy because of those who sacrificed for us. I believe we should be praying daily for those who represent us in our government and those who protect us by their service in our armed forces.
We need to be aware of the risk we run if we become apathetic about the issues that swirl around us. We need to be mindful of our individual duty to sustain and protect that which we have, and we need to be involved in doing something to improve things. Remember, if we are not part of the solution, we may well be part of the problem.
I have long cherished these statements. First, from Edmond Burke:
“Men are qualified for liberty in the exact proportion to their disposition to put chains upon their own evil appetites. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate habits cannot be free. Their passions forge fetters by which they bind themselves.”
Second, from Daniel Webster, who said:
“God grants liberty to those who live by it and are always ready to guard and defend it. Let our objective be our country’s welfare and by the blessings of God, may our country become a vast and splendid monument to wisdom, peace, strength, and liberty, upon which the world may gaze with admiration forever.”
And third, from John H. Stambaugh, who wrote:
“The historical cycle of the body politic indicates that man progresses from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to courage, from courage to freedom, from freedom to abundance; and then comes the warning, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to apathy, from apathy to dependency, and from dependency right back into bondage agin.”
Perhaps we need to evaluate where we are in this cycle today.
What can we do to dig wells for those who follow after us?
First of all, we need to be sure we are being good. Good citizens have good character. Alex De Tocqueville, the great French writer, visited America shortly after America had become a new nation to find out what made America great. What he wrote about our country at that time was entitled, America’s Greatness:
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there.
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her fertile fields and boundless forests, and it was not there.
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there.
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her public school system and her institutions of higher learning, and it was not there.
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her democratic congress and her matchless constitution, and it was not there.
Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.
AMERICA IS GREAT BECAUSE AMERICA IS GOOD!
And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
We need to do our very best to be good. Good persons create good families. Good families create good cities, states, and nations. Therefore, we must be good and teach goodness wherever and however we can, and that our future freedoms depend on our ability to be virtuous.
I conclude with these lines which were part of a plaque in a rope factory in New England. The author is unknown. However, this same factory had the following sign over the doors to the factory.
THE WORKER IN THIS FACTORY WEAVES HIS CONSCIENCE INTO THE ROPES BECAUSE HE KNOWS MANY LIVES MAY DEPEND THEREON.
THE ROPES OF GOLD
(Being a discourse upon the nature of freedom)
Our lives must be anchored with golden ropes
That give us purpose, meaning, hopes.
Know the ropes and you’ll be free;
To know them not means slavery.
What are these priceless golden strands
Holding freedoms unknown in other lands?
These, friend, are the ropes of gold
That all our precious freedoms hold.
To look around at a distant star,
To look ahead at horizons far,
To look upward through the dawn,
To trust in God and carry on.