OPINION – Too often we equate the historical struggle for freedom with the conflict of arms and wars and battles won and lost. In reality, some of the most momentous results have arisen from seemingly insignificant events that became a catalyst for greater changes that followed.
If we don’t understand the full context of how history has unfolded we run the risk of foolishly making the same destructive mistakes that others before us have made. On the other hand, when we have a clear grasp of how the little pieces make up the big picture, we can more fully appreciate what liberty has cost and what it is worth.
In the minds of many Americans the story of liberty begins in 1776, with the Declaration of Independence. But the liberty we celebrate each Fourth of July has its deepest roots in a five-hundred-year series of events that encompasses mankind’s quest to move from slavery to freedom.
The first seeds of representative government were sown at Runnymede with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. This is when King John of England was forced at the point of a sword to acknowledge that his civil powers over the people were not absolute. Our modern legal protections of due process and habeas corpus can be traced back to this event.
For centuries, the Church had exercised unlimited and often tyrannical power over kings, barons, and the people themselves. Breaking those chains required the efforts of individuals like John Wycliffe who translated the Bible into English; Gutenberg whose printing press made the scriptures available to the common man; and Martin Luther’s principled stand against corruption in the clergy to break the Church’s stranglehold over the people and their governments.
It was through their efforts that the cause of liberty was found to be inseparably connected to the concept of religious freedom.
Meanwhile, power struggles over the role of government continued between kings, parliaments and the people. It was George Buchanan, the former tutor of Mary Queen of Scots, who advanced the ideas that “the will of the people is the only legitimate source of power” and “the people have the right to choose their rulers and, if they prove to be bad, they have the right to depose them.”
Even so, there were many years of religious wars and untold suffering and persecution as the story of liberty unfolded. The seeds of liberty were carried forward with the discovery and settlement of the New World and the subsequent establishment of the colonies which would produce the Founders who gave us the Declaration of Independence with its brilliant exposition of the proper role of government.
The Founders’ possessed a clear understanding of history, which, combined with their personal character and moral courage, gave them the physical bravery to act upon their convictions. Their willingness to place their principles above personal gain enabled them to make the deep sacrifices necessary to secure the liberty of generations to follow.
Sometimes we are tempted to believe that the story of liberty is America’s alone. But it’s both enlightening and humbling to study the efforts of those men and women throughout history who stood against kings, priests, and all manner of tyrants to give us a sense of the true cost of liberty.
If we wish to perpetuate liberty for those who will follow us, there are a few things we must be willing to do.
Study the actual words of the Founders, not just those who have written about them. Let the Founders speak to you directly and draw your own conclusions about their principles and their personal character. If you need a dictionary to fully understand their language, then use one.
Become a student of history. It’s only through the study and grasp of history that we learn how the innumerable names, dates, places and events fit together into a flowing narrative that teaches us that although the names and faces may change, human nature does not. Understanding history provides us with a cultural literacy that adds depth to our understanding and adds weight to our words when we do choose to speak out.
And finally, recognize that moral character and the ability to clearly distinguish between what is sound and what is unsound are essential traits for those who love liberty and wish to further its cause. Instead of waiting for the right political leader or leaders to put us back on track, we can move the cause of liberty by living up to our fullest potential with a firm reliance on Divine Providence to see us through.
The story of liberty is still being written and each of us has the opportunity to play a role, however minor. But remember, it was the minor players whose love of liberty and desire to place their moral principles above popularity, personal gain and the lust to rule others who provided the greatest turning points for liberty.
Just because we cannot see the full implications of the role each of us plays, doesn’t mean that we’re not making a difference. Each of us must play our part well so that the story of liberty may continue.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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Copyright 2012 St. George News.