As a father, I think there are only about five or six life lessons I actually teach my children. There just happen to be multiple contexts in which I deliver my messages about personal responsibility, discipline, love, community, and whatever other themes I repeat in my parenting. Along with these life lessons come some oft repeated quotes from me—things that, despite the context of what’s going on, my children can count on me saying. One of those phrases is “King George cannot come over here and tell you what to do.” When I say this, I’m usually talking about the freedom we have as Americans, referring to King George III of England, from whom our forebears declared their independence. When they declared such, they appealed to a very intriguing idea—that the government is not sovereign. Indeed, the people themselves are sovereign, and that the government is subject not just to the people, but to whatever they themselves ascribe ultimate power. Consider these first few sentences from the Declaration of Independence:
“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 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…”
The consequences of such an idea are evident! If people naturally have the right to govern themselves, if people are of equal station that does not require them to submit to a king, and if people have unalienable rights, then there is nothing that can prevent them from aspiring to the greatest feats of mankind. For two hundred and thirty seven years, the people of these United States have lived and worked together to see the reality of these words achieved. There have been days in which it appeared that would not be possible. President Lincoln himself wondered if “any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.” That is a trial we are constantly faced with as a nation. I often remember President Reagan’s famous quote: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
When I go about my unusual way of reminding my children that we are indeed free, I do so because I believe in this ideal—that the people are sovereign and that what we choose to submit ourselves to matters far more than what our government thinks. I personally believe that God’s opinion will always matter more to me than that of any elected person at any level. That is the beauty of our freedom—we get to choose what our ultimate priorities are. This week, let’s celebrate those who came before. These were leaders who were willing to risk everything, not that they would gain more power through a position of authority, but in order that the people of America would be able to choose where their allegiances lie, and govern themselves based on their character and beliefs.