Freedom is never free

John Trumbull’s 1819 painting, Declaration of Independence, depicts the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Second Continental Congress on August 2, 1776, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA (Wikimedia Commons)

Independence Day is a day of picnics and the faint memory of our Revolutionary War, when American revolutionists tossed off tyranny like tea into Boston Harbor. Many Americans have lost sight of the fact that freedom did not come without much sacrifice.

56 men signed the Declaration of Independence. They signed and pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. What kinds of men were they?

Five were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. 12 had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons, who served in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured.

None fought and died from wounds of the Revolutionary War. 24 were lawyers and jurists. 11 were merchants, and nine were farmers and large plantation owners — men of means and highly educated. But they signed the fateful document, knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

Thomas McKean was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family constantly. He served Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and he died within a few months.

John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year, he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later, he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.

Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Walton, Heyward, Middleton and a few others.

Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. 

Standing tall, straight and unwavering, they pledged: “For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

These noble souls gave you and me a free and independent America. The history books do not tell us a lot about what happened in the Revolutionary War. We didn’t fight just the British. We were British subjects at the time, and we fought our own government! There are many Americans today who take these liberties for granted. They forget that freedom is never free.

Speaking of the sacrifice of the patriots who gave us our freedom, John Adams, a major figure in the American Revolution who was instrumental in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the shaping of the Constitution, wrote, “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that I ever took half of the pains to preserve it.”

Let us never lose sight of the fact that we are beneficiaries, inheritors of values that we did not create. We drink every day from wells that we have not dug; we are warmed by fires we have not kindled; we live with liberties we have not won. Independence Day is an opportunity to remember those who, through their sacrifice, enriched our lives.

Freedom is not only a privilege; it is also a responsibility. It demands loyalty. As in personal life, so it is in public life. No democracy can survive and thrive without the loyalty of its citizens, not their blind loyalty but their intelligent loyalty.

Freedom for individuals and nations means to be themselves — to live their own lives, to think their own thoughts, to seek their own answers and to decide their own destinies. In personal and social life, the basic struggles of human nature can be interpreted as efforts to be free. 

Let us remember the words of President John F. Kennedy and take them to heart: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” That is what it takes to build and maintain a democratic form of government.

Independence Day is not only a day of commemoration, but also a day of rededication. It is an opportune time to rededicate ourselves to the principles for which numerous American pioneers made sacrifices. As we cherish our freedom, let us never forget that freedom is never free!

Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian

Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian

Rev. Dr. Vahan H. Tootikian is the Executive Director of the Armenian Evangelical World Council.
Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian

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