Sunday, June 29, 2008

This Independence Day

This Friday we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day. All across America flags will be flying, parades will be marched, and veterans will be honored for their service. Many of us will gather with friends and family. We will throw some burgers and hot dogs on the BBQ while hopefully some patriotic tune is present in the background. Most of us will end the day stuffed with too much good American food while somewhere watching a grand display of fireworks. From coast to coast and border to border Americans will celebrate “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

History chronicles the events that lead to the penning of those now immortal words by Thomas Jefferson. I’d like to recount a few of those events.

For 150 years prior to 1765 the American colonies had enjoyed limited freedom to govern themselves. Though each colony had a local magistrate appointed by the King they were free to assemble as they wanted and worship as they saw fit. They had limited freedom of press and even levied taxes on themselves as necessary. In short the seed of freedom had been planted.

Britain however had just incurred a costly expense in the defense of its colonies during the French-Indian war (ended 1763). In an attempt to reclaim this money Parliament levied the Stamp Act which taxed every piece of paper the colonists used right down to their playing cards. Many of the colonists were infuriated and successfully forced Parliament to revoke it. Continued attempts by Parliament to control the colonies met with the same results. Feelings amongst the colonist were beginning to surface that would eventually lead Patrick Henry to say “give me liberty or give me death”.

The struggle culminated in early April of 1775 at Concord Mass. The Massachusetts militia, the Minutemen as they called themselves because they had promised to be ready a minute’s notice, was called to the old north bridge at 2:00 in the morning to meet a battalion of British regulars that have been dispatched from Lexington to seize a cache of munitions held by the militia. What resulted from this brief skirmish is memorialized on a monument by the side of the river. On it are these words by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

The Concord Hymn

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood;
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps,
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We place with joy a votive stone,
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

O Thou who made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free, --
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raised to them and Thee.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison were not at Concord Bridge. The minutemen that were there were the anonymous rank and file colonists. They wore no uniform, were not trained in battle, the muskets they carried were never intended for military use. At the dedication of the minutemen statue, George William Curtis said the following about these men:

“The Minuteman of the Revolution!—he was the old, the middle-aged, and the young. He was Captain Miles of Concord, who said that he went to battle as he went to church. He was Captain Davis of Acton, who reproved his men for jesting on the march. He was Deacon Josiah Haynes of Sudbury, eighty years old, who marched with his company to the South Bridge at Concord, then joined in the hot pursuit to Lexington, and fell gloriously… at Bunker Hill. He was James Hayward of Acton, twenty-two years old, foremost in that deadly race from Concord to Charlestown, who raised his piece at the same moment with a British soldier, each exclaiming, “You are a dead man!” The Briton dropped, shot through the heart. James Hayward fell mortally wounded. “Father,” he said, “I started with forty balls; I have three left. I never did such a day’s work before. Tell mother not to mourn too much; and tell her whom I love more than my mother, that I am not sorry I turned out.”

This was the minuteman of the Revolution, the rural citizen trained in the common school, the church, and the town meeting; who carried a bayonet that thought, and whose gun, loaded with a principle, brought down, not a man, but a system.” (Charles Eliot Norton, ed., Orations and Addresses of George William Curtis [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1894].)

They were the ordinary citizen just like you and me.

President Boyd K. Packer said of these same men, “However anonymous each may be, the great moments in history rest always on the rank and file of humankind. It was true then and it is true now. (“Except the Lord Build the House” The Spirit of America [Bookcraft, 1998.])

Thankfully for the all the generations that followed, they had what our hymn America the Beautiful calls the “patriots dream that sees beyond the years”.

One year after the shot at Old North Bridge that was heard round the world, the first Continental Congress declared this nation’s independence. America was ready to begin the great experiment of self-governance.

“The doctrine of that crowning document—the Declaration of Independence—is this: That the Creator, God, endowed all men with basic rights, and that governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed.

Until the American Revolution, a millennium of political tradition vested powers only in monarchs and dictators. The formers of our republic simply declared the truth—that God gave all men the right to life, liberty, and property. Man, therefore, was master over government rather than the other way round.” (Ezra Taft Benson, The Spirit of America [Bookcraft, 1998.])

The revolution we know was long and bloody. It was fought not on battlefields but in farmer’s fields. Against all odds--against the best equipped military of the day--American won her freedom. In the course of events during the Revolution, whether on the battlefield or in the halls of the Constitutional Convention that followed, one thing became abundantly clear to those involved–God was on their side.

In the Philadelphia Convention, Benjamin Franklin reminded his colleagues that “All of us who were engaged in this struggle have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor… The longer I live,” he said, “the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs the affairs of men.”

James Madison wrote in the Federalist, “It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the Revolution.”

George Washington insisted that the “Supreme Being” had protected “the liberty and happiness of these United States… The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this,” he said, “that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations [in return].” In his Inaugural Address, Washington stated: “No people can be found to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of Providential agency.”

And so the theme would continue. In Thomas Jefferson’s Second Inaugural Address, he acknowledged “that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life, who has covered our infancy with his Providence and our ripe years with his wisdom and power.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Except the Lord Build the House” The Spirit of America [Bookcraft, 1998])

Why was the hand of Providence so evident in the events of this nation’s beginning? Obviously felt but not yet revealed to the citizen at that time were the promises made by God to the ancient inhabitants of this land more than 2000 years prior.

Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be afree from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but bserve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, who hath been manifested by the things which we have written. (The Book of Mormon, Ether 2: 12)

This land has always been “preserved for a righteous people”. This promise comes with both a blessing and a consequence. The blessing is stated from the Book of Mormon’s first pages to its last “that in as much as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land”. The consequence is most summarily stated to the Brother of Jared:

“And he had sworn in his wrath unto the brother of Jared, that whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should aserve him, the true and only God, or they should be bswept off when the fulness of his wrath should come upon them.” (Book of Mormon, Ether 2: 8)

The Founding Fathers were, in the words of President Wilford Woodruff, “choice spirits who laid the foundation of this American Government”. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. Many of them placed not only their personal fortunes but also their reputations and even their lives on the altar of sacrifice to bring about the Constitution. Our Constitution ensures that which God had intended, that the power and responsibility for the weather this nation meets God’s requirement to serve Him lies with WE THE PEOPLE.

John Adams stated: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” The collective morality that is required must exist in us, the rank and file citizen. Some of our leaders have and will been good some have and will strive to set us on a course that takes us away from God commandants. James Madison said that there must be “sufficient virtue among men for self-government”. The power to right our course lies with WE THE PEOPLE.

We have in the Book of Mormon a detailed record of two previous American nations. In its pages we read about the blessings showered upon them by a merciful God during those times in which they served him by way of serving one another. We too, in our day, have been the recipients of innumerable blessings as a result of goodness. However, we read next of their ultimate demise. They were swept off of this choice land, they forgot God, public virtue and morality was lost and their voices now cry to us from the dust.

How grateful I am for the prophet Mormon who also had the patriots dream to see beyond the years. Knowing that the Spirit had ceased to strive with the Nephite nation he began to pray for us. He expressed his desires for us in the following words:

“35 And these things are written that we may rid our garments of the blood of our abrethren, who have dwindled in unbelief.

36 And behold, these things which we have adesired concerning our brethren, yea, even their restoration to the knowledge of Christ, are according to the prayers of all the saints who have dwelt in the land.

37 And may the Lord Jesus Christ grant that their prayers may be answered according to their faith; and may God the Father remember the covenant which he hath made with the house of Israel; and may he bless them forever, through faith on the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” (Book of Mormon, Morm. 9: 35-37)

God answered the prayers of His prophets. The book and the man that would serve as the instruments to bring forth the dispensation of the fullness of times were found within the borders of the United States of America. Thanks to the freedoms and liberties God has established here the stone cut without hands truly has rolled forth to bless all nations of the earth. Our Constitution has been used as a pattern for most nations of the earth and freedom enjoyed by more people worldwide than ever before in the history of the world.

And yet we know that all is not well in Zion. The freedoms for which those first anonymous colonists fought, for which countless others have fought and died are slipping from our grasp. Forces from within our nation are tearing at our moral fabric and public virtue. God has been ejected from our schools and court rooms. We are much to close to the paralleling the path of ancient counterparts.

What are we to do? Edmund Burk once said the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Let us then something. We have the fullness of the truth and the power of liberty. Let us be patriots.

Adlai Stevenson explained “What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times?. . . A patriotism that puts country ahead of self; a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

We are not all required to run for office or even serve as the president of the PTA. Elder Maxwell quotes a character from JRR Tolkien’s Return of The King, it reads:

“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who may live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” (Gandalf in The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien. New York: Ballantine Books, 1965, p. 190.)

We all have fields in which we are set, all we need to do is our duty. NO matter how lost the battle may seem at times, let do our duty. At times it may not seem important. Let us remember the Minutemen at the Old North Bridge. No one knows who fired that shot heard around the world - they were just patriots doing there duty. I love the example set by Mormon who, frustrated with the wicked and bloodthirsty Nephites leaves his post as commander and chief, and then repents and returns to lead them despite their inevitable loss – because it was his duty.

I close with a quote from President Packer:

“There must be enough of us who have faith enough and who are moral enough to desire that which is right. Virtues, like love and liberty and patriotism, do not exist in general, they exist in particular. If morality exists at all, it exists in the individual heart and mind of ordinary citizens. Such virtues cannot be isolated in any other place; not in the rocks or in the water, not in trees or air, not in animas or birds. If it exists at all, it exists in the human heart. Morality flourishes when the rank and file are free. It flourishes where a conscience is clear, where men have faith in God and are obedient to the restraints He has set upon human conduct.

There is light, a “true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). This light of Christ is the ingredient which binds the whole human family together and forms something of a universal conscience.

There is nothing that is right that we cannot achieve if our individual and our national conscience is clear.

Now what are we going to do? Let me tell you:

Just go home and be decent, Sunday go-to-meeting people. Teach your children decency and honor, cooperation and tolerance, citizenship and patriotism. Teach them to be good. Teach them to have a clear conscience. Then we will produce a generation who will know what to do and have the courage to do it.

Eighty year old Deacon Josiah Haynes who fell at Concord, and twenty-two year old James Hayward whose last words to the girl he loved more than his mother were, “I’m not sorry I turned out,” both had conviction and the courage to die for it.

You live for it! Just be decent. Take care of your family, you yourself. Don’t abandon that responsibility to the government, and don’t let them take it from you. Go where virtue and morality and clear consciences are fostered. Go to church, do your part, pay your tithes and offerings, say your prayers, read the scriptures. Be a citizen, vote; in fact, pray and then vote. Then, when the crisis comes, and come it will, you and all the rest of us will know what is right and be willing to do what is right. (Boyd K. Packer, “The Country with a Conscience” The Spirit of America [Salt Lake City. Bookcraft, 1998])

--Written by James M. Turner, Copyright 2008 Mormon-Patriot. All Rights Reserved.

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