Reflecting on our legacy of liberty
We charge you, King George, with “a long train of abuses” designed to “establish an absolute tyranny over these states.”
Our 1776 Declaration of Independence was also a Declaration of Defiance, detailing the high crimes and misdemeanors of a tyrannical despot. The king was accused of “obstructing justice, imposing taxes and cutting off our trade.
This spirit of defiance can be traced back to a colonial newspaper editor who shut down his paper rather than comply with the Stamp Act of 1765. A final front-page editorial stated his case for freedom.
“Liberty is one of the greatest blessings which human beings can possibly enjoy. When we are deprived of this earthly blessing, we are fettered with the Chains of inimical servitude…A day, an hour, of virtuous liberty is worth a whole eternity of bondage…May (our) future posterity reap the benefits (of liberty),..and may we bless the hands which were the instruments of procuring it.”
Those hands included the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence who “mutually pledge(d) to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” 6,100 soldiers died fighting for our freedom in the War of Independence and another 17,000 died of disease.
One of the surviving soldiers was John Hosbrook, my ancestor and a sergeant from New Jersey who homesteaded on the Ohio frontier after the war. He froze to death bringing salt back from the fort during a blizzard, casting the mantel of leadership on his son, Dan Hosbrook. Dan’s development illustrates how freedom fosters maximizing our human potential.
At age 13, Dan was already a skilled hunter and navigator of the surrounding woodland wilderness. Having learned to read and write, he started his own school in a log cabin on the family farm. When the War of 1812 broke out, he was asked to raise a company of men to march north to Fort Amanda near Lake Erie and defend it from British attack. He did so, doubling the size of the fort.
After the war, Dan became a member of the Ohio Legislature and both the county surveyor and court sheriff for the Cincinnati area. His accomplishments were cut short by blindness, but his offspring provided more county surveyors, engineers, and legislators for both Ohio and Indiana.
I reflected on how Dan and that newspaper editor who so valued freedom would assess our situation today. They could well judge our political system in a paralysis of self-importance and power struggles.
These pioneers of the past might also judge that the Creator who endowed us with those “unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” has been demoted to a secondary and nearly invisible role in our high-tech modern society. When a long-winded, partisan speech ends with “God bless America,” it often seems more perfunctory than personal and sincere.
On the other hand, Dan and the editor came from an era in which full freedom for women, African-Americans, and other groups simply did not exist. Yet the inscription of Leviticus 25:10 on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia reads, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
“All” in the quotation above can be a tricky word, not in understanding but in implementation. But hopefully the founders of this country, those who forged our Declaration of Independence and stood up in defiance to not-so-good King George III, put us on a glide path to the fullest freedom possible.
We should be thankful for the freedom we have. We should keep working to maintain and expand that freedom and the maximization of human potential that freedom can make possible. Dan Hosbrook and the defiant editor would hopefully agree.
I heard the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., preach many years ago. But what I hear now is the echo and importance of the stirring end to his “I have a dream speech”— “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” Are we? Are we all?
James F. Burns is an Ohio native and retired professor at the University of Florida