Dr J Rufus Fears – Story of Freedom – (3 of 18) – Independence, Freedom, and Honor: The Declaration


bjbj Lecture #3 There was an air of anticipation
even urgency in that sultry late Spring of 1776 in Philadelphia, the delegates that had
come from all 13 colonies to discuss the great question of independence from Britain. Attitudes
had changed tremendously since the summer of 1775. At that time there was still very
strong opposition, even among leading political figures in the colonies strong opposition
to declaring independence from Britain. But now with blood on the ground at Lexington,
with the siege of Boston the question had simply become too strong, too pressing to
put aside. Thomas Paine had argued in January of that year in one of the most influential
little pamphlets ever written that common sense demanded separation from Britain. Britain,
he said. Why do we need her? You say she is our mother country. Well that s great but
should you still be living with your mother when you re 50 years of age? You say that
Britain has protected us. She has protected us because we are wealthy. She gains from
us. She would protect Turkey for the same reason. No, we are already a great nation.
Let us simply declare our independence from Britain. It is common sense. This had changed
the minds of many Americans. George Washington, leading the American army, pressed for the
need of declaring independence from Britain. Without such a declaration we are nothing
but rebels. Any ships that we commissioned are pirates. We must understand why we have
taken up arms. And when the spring came a majority of the state legislatures, which
had chosen the delegates to the convention in Philadelphia, gave them the leeway to vote
for independence if it seemed in the good of the state and of the common good. And so
the debate was taken up and already on June the 7th at 1776 Richard Henry Lee, whose descendent
would do his best to tear apart that union Robert E. Lee Richard Henry Lee put forth
a resolution that these colonies are and of a right should be free and independent states.
Now you notice the use of the word states. Well this was not the independence of the
United States of America a united country. It was of each individual state and as any
proud Virginian will tell you, more than a month before the state of Virginia had already
declared its independence. So you keep this in mind. You right there keep this in mind.
These states were declared independent. They existed as states before they existed as a
united nation. So he put forth his resolution and immediately the delegates presided over
by John Hancock, a leading revolutionary figure and a very wealthy merchant appointed a committee,
a small committee to draft a statement that would declare to the world why these United
States were declaring their independence from Britain. Among them were Thomas Jefferson
and John Adams, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman and the wisest delegate there, as he would
be at the Constitutional convention 11 years later, Benjamin Franklin renowned in Europe
as a scientist, a politician, a diplomat who had long pleaded the cause of the colonies
before Parliament. So they sat down working there in Jefferson s small rooms. Now you
have got also to picture these are not congressmen with huge staffs, big salaries. They got their
expenses and nothing more. They did not rent out whole suites of rooms. Working there in
a little tiny set of chambers, working on a special little writing pad that he had made
for him by a carpenter that he would leave to one of his descendants there they began
to put together this draft to declare to the world their reasons. Jefferson wrote it. He
was the youngest he was 33 years of age. One might have expected the rotund and bald John
Adams pompous as he was with his Harvard education to write it but no he wanted Jefferson to
do it. He may have been fat but he was a shrewd politician and if there were going to be any
blame to fall on this declaration as it came before the continental congress, well let
it fall on Jefferson. Nobody made many amendments or changes and then it was composed by Jefferson
and then the question came Are we actually going to vote for independence? Some of the
staunchest revolutionaries men like John Dickinson who had been for the cause of freedom since
the very beginning, from Pennsylvania was cautious, skeptical and he warned that such
a breach would destroy any support that the colonies had in Parliament. And indeed, throughout
this long revolutionary struggle there was an important faction in Parliament led by
men like Edmond Burke who opposed King George III his cabinet and supported the cause of
the American colonies. In opposition to the strong voices of caution were the pressing
military and political necessitates. As Washington urged the need for this to be an independent
country fighting as an independent nation under the rules of war, so also was the clear
recognition from the beginning that these colonies fighting against the most powerful
Navy in the world, the best army in the world, the greatest financial power in the world
and indeed a Britain that was determined to crush this revolution there had to be foreign
aid intervention, above all by France and King Louis of France was loathe to support
a bunch of rebels and cutthroats. And thus the debate went on day by day, day by day,
through June and then Jefferson presented to the congress his Declaration of Independence.
John Adams had made a few additions. The delegates at the convention made a number of changes.
In fact, Jefferson got more and more angry as they kept changing his Declaration of Independence.
But finally it was agreed upon and on the 4th of July the delegates stepped forward
to begin to sign it. John Dickinson remained opposed and as late as July the 2nd there
were those who were opposed. Pennsylvania itself had a majority in opposition to this
Declaration of Independence. South Carolina was opposed. And above all, Delaware that
small but vital little state was split right down the middle. But on the 4th of July the
delegates from Pennsylvania who were opposed to the Declaration of Independence stayed
home all of them but John Dickinson. Benjamin Franklin implored him but Dickinson said he
was not opposed to independence but the time was not opportune. South Carolina declared
that in the interest of unanimity they would go along for this had to be a unanimous declaration.
But Delaware Delaware was still split right down the middle. Two delegates were present.
A third Caesar Rodney was at home in bed sick sick with the flu. And the delegate from Delaware
who was opposed stayed right there in the convention. He would not leave. I will vote
against this, he said. This he had done on the 2nd. Word had to be brought to Caesar
Rodney. He got out of his sick bed, rode all through the night more than 80 miles arriving
there in Philadelphia to sign that Declaration of Independence. And so it was done. t let
anybody ever tell you that it was not signed on July the 4th. That is something that historians
like to make up that it was an elaborate process and it wasn t actually signed. Well, John
Hancock knew better when he scrawled with his big, bold hand his name saying, I wrote
it so big that Georgie won t have to put on his spectacles to read it. And late in life
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both swore that on the 4th of July they had signed this
Declaration of Independence. Now are you telling me that Jefferson and Adams would lie? But
even more than that, old men their doctors declaring that they would die very soon both
Adams and Jefferson hung on hung on until the 4th of July of 1826 and then having achieved
that glorious anniversary both passed away on that day. So it was a momentous day in
the history of freedom, a momentous day in the history of our country. But what was the
Declaration of Independence? Our course is called The Story of Freedom in America. We
need to pause for a moment and decide what we mean by freedom for much of our trouble
in the world today comes from a serious failure to understand the meaning of freedom. Freedom,
as we normally use it, actually consists of three separate components. There is national
freedom. There is political freedom. There is individual freedom. And these three ideals
of freedom are not mutually inclusive. National freedom is your freedom from foreign domination.
It is perhaps the most basic of all forms of freedom. The second is far more rare. It
is your freedom to vote political freedom your freedom to hold office, your freedom
to serve on an honest jury. And then thirdly, there is individual freedom. That is your
freedom to live as you choose as long as you harm no one else. Now in this country we have
achieved a unique balance of these three forms of freedom. National freedom we have never
been conquered. We cannot imagine it. Political freedom you are more free politically here
than anywhere else in the world. You know I don t get upset when people say, Well, only
30% turned out for this election. So what? That means that we are so secure in our political
freedom that we can take it for granted. Then thirdly, there is individual freedom freedom
to live as you choose. That includes economic freedom. It includes the most basic freedom
of your lifestyle. You are more free individually here again than anywhere else in the world.
I suggest to you that thousands of people are not swimming the Black Sea tonight to
try to get to the Ukraine. But thousands are coming here because they believe and know
they will be more free to make a better life for their family than anywhere else. So we
have achieved this unique balance and we tend to forget that other countries may not want
this balance. National freedom North Korea that is a very good example of a modern nation
that has national freedom without any political freedom, without individual freedom. It can
be argued that Germany and Japan never truly knew political freedom until they had been
conquered and lost their national freedom by the United States at the end of World War
II. Ancient Sparta is a clear example of a strong national freedom, strong political
freedom and democracy and an absence of individual freedom. Now we have three great charters
in this country. The Declaration of Independence is our declaration of national freedom. The
Constitution is our charter of political freedom. And the Bill of Rights is our charter of individual
freedom. So it was that began the moving paragraph of the Declaration of Independence when in
the words of Jefferson a decent respect for the opinion of the world declares maintains–
that we express the reasons why we are separating from Britain, dissolving the political bonds
that have held us to Britain for all these many years. We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable
rights among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and that governments
are instituted among men to secure these rights and that when a government becomes destructive
of those rights it is not only your right it is your duty to rise up and revolt. We
hold these truths to be self-evident. Don t let anyone ever allow his or her eyes to
glaze over at these words. They are the most profound statement of independence for America
is the only nation in history founded upon moral values. How did you get to be an Englishmen
in 1776? You were born there. A German will still tell you in honesty that you are a German
because you speak German as your mother tongue. But we say, Come here from any place in the
world. Speak any language as your mother tongue. You are an American because you accept our
principles. The law of nature America is founded on the ideal of natural law. That is the idea
that goes right back to Athens and the first democracy in history in the 5th century BC.
It goes back to Rome and one of its finest definitions is in the Roman patriot, Cicero,
in the 1st century BC. Natural law is the law of God as revealed in nature. Now the
Declaration of Independence clearly states a belief in absolute right and absolute wrong.
Liberty is absolutely right. Tyranny is absolutely wrong. And you can only believe in absolute
right and wrong if you believe in God. Now that s not a political statement. That s just
looking at it from the point of view of 1776. Now we today don t accept that. As a society
we don t believe in absolute right and absolute wrong. Don t you believe that it s the situation
that determines whether something is right or wrong yes or no? Tell me. There is no such
thing as lying today in our society. To the founders a lie was wrong. But today they re
just levels of truth, levels of lies and all that really matters is not being caught in
a lie. So a belief in God and an absolute right and wrong stands at the very foundation
of the moral principles upon which the United States declared its national freedom. And
the Creator who gave natural law to the universe and endowed all humans with the unalienable
right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness oh, what clich s they sound like to us today in our wisdom. Life though it
stands at the very center of a debate so divisive in our country today that we are afraid to
discuss it. When does life begin? Liberty how would you define it? Well, most of you
would raise your hand do it raise your hand. I think you would define it as the right to
live as you choose as long as you harm no one else. That s how the founders defined
it. Aha! But there there is rub. When do you start harming somebody else? Secondhand smoke?
Not wearing your seatbelt? There. So we as a society still do not understand and agree
upon what makes you impinge upon the rights of another person. And the pursuit of happiness
oh, one of your wise people is going to raise your hand and say, The cynical Jefferson really
meant property. Well first of all, that s not a bad thing to mean. Cicero talking about
natural law believed that you can have no true freedom unless there is a respect for
property and he like Jefferson believed that you have an unalienable right to property
an unalienable right. That means you cannot give it up. You cannot throw it away. But
he didn t write property. He wrote the pursuit of happiness and that means you have a moral
obligation this goes right back to Aristotle and indeed Aristotle was cited by Jefferson
as one of his sources, as was Cicero you have a moral obligation. And happiness true happiness
is fulfilling your moral obligation and that obligation is to live your life in such a
way that you leave the world a better place. And governments receive their power not from
a king not from a king who has gotten his power from God but from the consent of the
governed. This was truly a revolutionary idea. 1688 Parliament had fought for that right
to have the consent of the governed and now the Americans were proclaiming it to the world.
They no longer believed in a Parliament. They believed that they these colonies, now states
had the right to determine the consent of the governed of themselves and that when a
government becomes destructive of these rights then it is not only your right, it is your
duty to overthrow it. And so that powerful first paragraph establishing this country,
it s charter of national freedom upon moral values, absolute right and wrong and however
unfashionable it is today, upon a belief in God. Then followed a set of grievances ways
in which King George and this was a document This was a propaganda statement to convince
the world and you convince people best by centering all the problems on one person.
So George is the real bad person in all of this ways in which he had violated the natural
law and rights of the colonists, starting with small things like interfering with where
the legislatures met, substituting his arbitrary will for law. And then going on subjecting
them to a foreign jurisdiction Parliament and reaching a crescendo of having it declared
them outside of his protection, of burning their towns, of raising up insurrection among
them. Such a behavior is unworthy of any prince who would be ruler of a free people. It is
indeed a tyrant and his actions. Thus they declared that these united colonies are and
of a right ought to be free and independent states and to this we pledge our lives, our
fortunes and our sacred honor. These were men trained in the art of rhetoric. They knew
that saying three things a triad was the most memorable way of making a statement and so
they pledged their lives. They also understood that the last of these triads is most important.
Their lives yes, they wanted to live. Benjamin Franklin remarked quietly, You know, we d
better win because if we don t stand together we re surely going to hang separately. And
Elbridge Gerry was spoken to by John Hancock Elbridge Gerry from Massachusetts, a skinny
little man Hancock said to him, You know when George hangs us I m going to have it a lot
better. I m big and fat and I m just going to go boom! But you re going to dangle there
like a fish on a pole. Their fortunes meant a great deal to them. But the third of this
triad is the only one to have a qualifying adjective our sacred honor and to them honor
was not a word. It was a whole complex of ideas that expressed your very being, your
very substance, your moral worth. It was your integrity, your bravery, your magnanimity
and that was sacred. It is no accident that one of these signers, Button Gwinnett from
Georgia, would die on the field of honor in a dual. And so pledging their lives, their
fortunes and their sacred honor, they started out on this dangerous course of independence.
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6 thoughts on “Dr J Rufus Fears – Story of Freedom – (3 of 18) – Independence, Freedom, and Honor: The Declaration

  • I'm a big fan of Rufus Fears' work on Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire. I think he is a truly brilliant maverick in his writings on these topics. The first two sessions of this "Freedom" series are very good, indeed. The 3rd session on the "Declaration of Independence," however, is disappointing from the stand point of the history of political thought. Fears espouses a classical Liberal view of "natural rights" and what is known as "negative freedom" (or "freedom from" outside interference) straight out of John Locke. He seems unaware in this lecture of the other side of the coin, what Isaiah Berlin famously termed "positive freedom" or the "freedom for" a life of virtue, honor, human excellence. This positive freedom that requires equipping, educating and empowering citizens "for" the life and duty of freedom was essential to the rural democratic viewpoint of Jefferson (which ultimately lost out) and his later actions as president. Garry Wills "Inventing America" reveals this neglected aspect of positive freedom or what the ancient Greeks and Romans called the "education in virtue" or "paideia." This form of close and personal community training in human excellence ("freedom for" or positive freedom) is what made ancient Sparta and Republican Rome so long-lasting and so famous as models for the rest of the Western world. This is what the US founders seriously debated and regretted losing; it is where Jefferson differed from Madison (especially) and Hamilton. As a classical scholar, Fears should know this debate, yet his list of "3 Types of Freedom" includes 3 varieties of negative "freedom from" outside interference (national, political, individual). He leaves the viewer thinking this is all there is to that long-cherished Western ideal. He rubs up against the classical ideal of positive freedom when he notes that ancient Sparta had national and political freedom but did not have "individual freedom." He is correct from the point of view of current popular thinking but the ancient Spartans' would not have seen this as a lack of freedom but as the very thing that made all freedom possible. They would not have seen it as "lack of individual freedom" but would rather have called it "education" in virtue or citizenship or excellence. It was an absolutely necessary positive ideal for them. This essential "training in excellence" (or "arete") is what equipped each Spartan to be able to live the life of freedom together. It equipped them singly and together with the skills, habits, resources and profound love of their homeland that made them a formidable people extraordinarily different from everyone else. With this communal education in virtue or excellence, Sparta did not need defense walls or any other expensive technology (such as trireme warships) to defend themselves. Their positive freedom built into their very characters and personalities made the Spartan citizens themselves the only "walls" their city ever needed.

  • This man is an amazing historian and one of the best lecturer's I have ever heard. Very sad to know this man is not with us anymore.

  • The University of Oklahoma deserves congratulations for having had the good sense to hire such a man and to help keep his memory alive with these taped lectures. In an age where most of the nation's schools of higher learning are doing all they can to destroy America it is refreshing to see a good man tell the story of America as it should be told.

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