John Wesley Reid is the editor-in-chief of the Standing for Freedom Center. Follow John on Twitter at @johnwesleyreid.
Every Fourth of July, the Philadelphia-housed Liberty Bell is tapped 13 times by descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Inscribed on this national heirloom is a summary of our Founders’ dream for America:
“Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof.”
The operative word here is “proclaim,” for without it, the rest of the statement would simply be a deep-sounding idea with no call to action.
The one-ton, thick-walled, bronze construction indicates the Old State House Bell produced a loud and captivating ring, summoning the attention of those near and far. The Liberty Bell proclaims and declares the independence that was hard-fought for and costly. While the Liberty Bell hasn’t reverberated its true glory since 1846 due to an irreparable crack, the symbolism remains.
Today, we have the same bell, the same inscription, the same history, and we continue revering it powerfully every Fourth of July — even while the very liberty it represents is dwindling. Liberty is disappearing before our eyes and while it’s easy to blame elected officials for drawing up the blueprints of oppression, the hard pill is that we patriots are not innocent of this tyrannical destruction.
Tyrants seek control, but apathetic citizenries allow it. Tyranny is only the victor when the citizenry abdicates the freedom they fail to cherish. Or perhaps they do cherish their freedom but are simply too naïve to see the preface of tyranny right in front of them.
Even the most passionate of patriots today would fear the patriotic measures of our Founders. To them, activism wasn’t an annual march or scheduled event. Real activism was more like 9-11, always moving, purposeful, and willing to jump into the fray when needed no matter the risks or hurdles. This isn’t meant to shame modern patriots, being one myself, but to challenge them — to challenge us.
I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy if I ever knew one. I was born on the Fourth of July. I dressed up as Uncle Sam for my third birthday, majored in political science, joined the Marines. But without an active posture of defense against tyranny, all of this is immaterial (except being Uncle Sam when I was three, for that surely holds some prophetic weight.)
But in seriousness, it is disappointing, if not convicting, to see the staunch contrast between our Founders’ patriotism and modern-day patriotism. We’ve become lazy in many ways and have surrendered a true fight for freedom but without surrendering a narrative. That is, we talk about it, but our talk pales in comparison to our action.
Social media is an effective medium for cultural change, if used correctly. But if our fury ends with a tweet, then no fury ever truly existed. No fury, enthusiasm, patriotism, or desire for change could have existed because such emotion is stemmed from a strong concern for where our country is going, and no such concern would be satisfied with such simplicity.
In fairness to myself and my fellow patriots, perhaps our enthusiasm isn’t on par with our Founders because we haven’t experienced their oppression. However, only so much grace is deserved here. We haven’t experienced their oppression, but we do know of it and we know it started with a slippery slope.
We’re past slippery at this point in American history. When the House of Representatives passes the Equality Act, a legislative disaster that undermines all tenets of individual freedom … when a Christian cake baker is legally accosted for refusing to violate his faith … when churches are given less occupancy allowance than casinos during a pandemic … at this point, it would be foolishly naïve to believe that we aren’t on a trajectory to demolish the Liberty Bell, to believe that we aren’t on the paths greased back to the tyrannical doctrines from which our revolutionary exodus arose.
John Witherspoon, a clergyman, president of Princeton University, and signatory to the Declaration of Independence, once gave an impassioned sermon based on Psalm 76:10, in which he reminded the congregation that God uses everything, including the ravings of one’s opponents, for His own purposes, but we must commit ourselves first and foremost to Christ. He admonished,
“…so in times of difficulty and trial, it is in the man of piety and inward principles that we may expect to find the uncorrupted patriot, the useful citizen, and the invincible soldier. God grant that in America, true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable, and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one may in the [end] tend to the support and establishing of both.”