“With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” pledging his life, fortune and sacred honor in its support, John Adams signed his name to the declaration. Less than a year later, no doubt having seen the captivity and death of many of his countrymen, and the destruction of property and the ravages of war, Adams wrote his wife on April 26, 1777.
“Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the pains to preserve it,” he wrote.
Having recently celebrated the July 4 holiday, the anniversary of our country’s declaration of freedom, there is no better time to reflect on Adams’ hope for us. As his patriotic posterity, more than 239 years later, are we making good use of our freedom?
Facing tyranny and oppression from the British government, another of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “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 meaning and impact of these words was significant.
The representatives of the 13 United States had just declared that every person is guaranteed certain rights just by virtue of being born, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At the time, these words were revolutionary. Today, however, contrary to Adams’ hope, many of us hold these truths not merely to be self-evident; we also take them for granted.
Remember that the Declaration of Independence didn’t say we are entitled to be happy. Rather, we have the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. With so many modern luxuries and conveniences, perhaps those of us who were born into freedom assume that happiness, itself, is our right and our privilege – not just that we are entitled to pursue it. This, I believe, is precisely what Adams feared – that we, the future generations, would forget that a price was paid for our freedom, our right to pursue happiness. Actively pursuing the things that make us happy (rather than sitting back waiting for happiness to descend upon us) is precisely what Adams meant when he suggest that we make good use of our freedoms.
With the exception of those members of the military who have served and who continue to serve our country, most of us will never know the cost of which Adams wrote. After all, it’s human nature to forget.
The more distance between present day times and those who gave their lives to preserve our freedom, the easier it is to develop a sense of entitlement. It’s easy to feel we deserve happiness.
When our happiness is disrupted by pain, sadness and hardship, we have feelings of resentment; we feel offended by the very notion that someone or something has dared disturb it. We feel it is our right to have our unhappiness automatically restored to us. We complain and bemoan our circumstances, thus defeating the very freedoms that Adams, Jefferson and so many others sacrificed to secure. By assuming it is our right to be happy, we forfeit our unalienable right to pursue happiness, the very paradox Adams feared.
Having just celebrated the July 4th holiday and with Adams’ words ringing in our ears, I hope we remember to make good use of our freedom.
I hope we take the time to remember where our freedom came from. I hope we remember that it is our right to live how we wish; it is our right to pursue what makes us happy, and that those rights, unalienable as they are, came at a great price and should never be assumed or taken for granted.
I hope you had a very happy Independence Day. Thank you to those who serve to protect our freedom and to those who remember how much it costs to preserve.