Almost every country in the world celebrates a national holiday that recognizes its independence, founding, or heritage. In the United States, that day is Independence Day (aka the Fourth of July). Noted for its patriotic parades and lavish fireworks shows, Independence Day is filled with picnics, ball games, and fun. Although its roots date back to the 18th century and the American Revolution (1775-83), I suspect that most Americans would be surprised to learn that the Fourth of July only became a federal holiday in 1941. The Second of July might be a more appropriate date to celebrate. It was on that date that the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence. But it was the public release of the Declaration of Independence, two days later, that really caught the attention of the colonists. Although most of the celebrations will take place tomorrow (Saturday), many Americans get to take today off so that they can celebrate a three-day weekend. It turns out that the third of July is a good compromise day between the vote for independence and the release of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration proclaimed: “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.”
Liberty and freedom are often used interchangeably and the late American poet, essayist and journalist Walt Whitman (1819–1892) believed that they were terms that most people didn’t really understand. He once penned the following statement about freedom:
“It is not only true that most people entirely misunderstand Freedom, but I sometimes think I have not yet met one person who rightly understands it. The whole Universe is absolute Law. Freedom only opens entire activity and license under the law. To the degraded or undevelopt — and even to too many others — the thought of freedom is a thought of escaping from law — which, of course, is impossible.”
Whitman is correct. We are all subject to laws; but, there are two kinds of laws and Whitman doesn’t seem to make a distinction between the two. The first kind of law is natural law. Natural laws are obeyed because we can’t do otherwise. They include things like the law of gravity. At the quantum level, we are still trying to come to grips with how weirdly some these laws behave. The other kind of law is manmade law. These kinds of laws are created for a number of reasons including:
1. To keep us safe from harm (e.g., laws against assault, battery, and murder).
2. To establish the rules needed for a society to live and work together (traffic laws, contract law, etc.)
3. To protect the fabric of society as agreed upon by the voice of the people or their representatives (i.e., moral laws that deal with pornography, burglary, libel, etc.).
4. To maintain social order.
Of course, governments get involved in numerous activities besides the passing of laws and regulations and much of debate that divides America today is about those other activities. Whitman’s point, however, was that the greatest societies are the ones that best manage the tensions created by manmade laws to ensure that people are treated fairly and justly. That was one of purposes of establishing constitutional checks and balances that involve the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary branches of government. Someone once said, “Liberty is the right to choose. Freedom is the result of the right choice.” The implication, of course, is that we can make wrong choices, which is why checks and balances are so important. The late Albert Camus once asserted, “Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.” Unfortunately, freedom also allows us to be worse. The fundamental freedoms that allow us to point out injustices in hopes that they can be corrected are the greatest freedoms we need to protect. Whitman concluded:
“More precious than all worldly riches is Freedom — freedom from the painful constipation and poor narrowness of ecclesiasticism — freedom in manners, habiliments, furniture, from the silliness and tyranny of local fashions — entire freedom from party rings and mere conventions in Politics — and better than all, a general freedom of One’s-Self from the tyrannic domination of vices, habits, appetites, under which nearly every man of us, (often the greatest brawler for freedom,) is enslaved.”
While this sounds a little preachy, Whitman’s point is that we often impinge on true freedom by enslaving ourselves with things that don’t really matter. On this holiday, may we be truly thankful for the freedoms we enjoy and the values that uphold them. From all of us at Enterra Solutions®, we hope you have a happy and safe Fourth of July.