The Price of Liberty

by David Barton


July 2, 1776, Congress voted to approve a complete separation from Great Britain. Two days afterward-July 4th-the early draft of the Declaration of Independence was signed, albeit by only two individuals at that time: John Hancock, president of Congress, and Charles Thompson, secretary of Congress. Four days later, on July 8, members of Congress took that document and read it aloud from the steps of Independence Hall, proclaiming it to the city of Philadelphia, after which the Liberty Bell was rung. The inscription around the top of that bell, Leviticus 25:10, was most appropriate for the occasion:


"Proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof."

 

To see the turmoil in other nations, their struggles and multiple revolutions, and yet to see the stability and blessings that we have here in America, we may ask how has this been achieved? What was the basis of American independence? John Adams said, "The general principles on which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity." Perhaps the clearest identification of the spirit of the American Revolution was given by John Adams in a letter to Abigail the day after Congress approved the Declaration. He wrote her two letters on that day; the first was short and concise, jubilant that the Declaration had been approved. The second was much longer and more pensive, giving serious consideration to what had been done that day. Adams cautiously noted: "This day will be the most memorable epic in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival."

It is amazing that on the very day they approved the Declaration, Adams was already foreseeing that their actions would be celebrated by future generations. Adams contemplated whether it would be proper to hold such celebrations, but then concluded that the day should be commemorated—but in a particular manner and with a specific spirit. As he told Abigail: "It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty."

John Adams believed that the Fourth of July should become a religious holiday-a day when we remembered God's hand in deliverance and a day of religious activities when we committed ourselves to Him in "solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty." Such was the spirit of the American Revolution as seen through the eyes of those who led it.

Have you ever considered what it meant for those 56 men—ministers, businessmen, teachers, university professors, sailors, captains, farmers-to sign the Declaration of Independence? This was a contract that began with the reasons for the separation from Great Britain and closed in the final paragraph stating "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."

Men of Honor

In 1781, Dr. Benjamin Rush, father of American medicine and a signer, wrote to John Adams, "Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the House when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe to what was believed by many at that time to be our death warrants? The silence and gloom of the morning was interrupted, I well recollect, only for a moment by Colonel Harrison of Virginia (a big guy) who said to Mr. Gerry (small in stature) at the table: 'I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing...From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead.' This speech produced a transient smile, but it was soon succeeded by the solemnity with which the whole business was conducted."

These men took this pledge seriously. Robert Morris of Pennsylvania is an example of the highest level of integrity. He was chosen as the financier of the American Revolution-except that there was no bank willing to help fund the Revolution. It was three years before America got any kind of funding at all. After winning the Battle of Saratoga, foreign nations like France, Holland and others began loaning us money.

So where did we get money for the first three years? Congress, at that time, could not have obtained a loan of $1,000 yet Morris secured loans upon his own credit, for tens of thousands.

It has been justly remarked that: "If it were not demonstrable by official records, posterity would hardly be made to believe that the campaign of 1781, which resulted in the capture of Cornwallis, and virtually closed the Revolutionary War, was sustained wholly on the credit of an individual merchant."

America couldn't repay him because there was no money and yet Morris never complained because he had given his word.

You see the same kind of commitment in the life of John Hart, a strong Christian and speaker of the House of Representatives in New Jersey. There were three important things in his life: his Savior, his family and his farm. The British were seeking him and the rest of the signers of the Declaration to execute as traitors. John Hart fled his home after which his farm was ravaged, his timber destroyed, and his cattle and stock butchered for the use of the British army. He did not dare remain two nights in the same location. After Washington's success at the Battle of Trenton, he finally returned home to find his wife had died and his children scattered. He lost almost everything that was important to him but kept his word.

John Hancock lived in a mansion reflecting his princely fortune—one of the largest in the province of Massachusetts. During the time the American army besieged Boston to rid it of the British, the American officers proposed the entire destruction of the city. "By the execution of such a plan, the whole fortune of Mr. Hancock would have been sacrificed. Yet he readily acceded to the measure, declaring his willingness to surrender his all, whenever the liberties of his country should require it." A man of his word, Hancock demonstrated integrity.

No King but King Jesus

The 16 congressional proclamations for prayer and fasting throughout the Revolution (i.e., the acknowledgment of Jesus Christ, the quoting of Romans 14:17, etc.) were not unusual considering the prominent role that many ministers played in the Revolution.

One such example is John Peter Muhlenburg. In a sermon delivered to his Virginia congregation January 21, 1776, he preached from Ecclesiastes 3 which speaks of a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. Arriving at verse 8, there is "a time of war and a time of peace," Muhlenburg noted that this surely was not the time of peace; this was the time of war. Concluding with a prayer, and while standing in full view of the congregation, he removed his clerical robes to reveal beneath them the uniform of an officer in the Continental army! He marched to the back of the church and ordered the drum to beat for recruits. More than 300 men joined him, becoming the Eighth Virginia Brigade. Muhlenburg finished the Revolution as a major general.

Another minister-leader in the Revolution was the Rev. James Caldwell. His actions during one battle inspired a painting showing him with a stack of hymnbooks in his arms while engaged in the midst of a fierce battle against the British outside a battered Presbyterian church. During the battle, the Americans had developed a serious problem: they had run out of wadding for their guns, which was just as serious as having no ammunition. Caldwell recognized the perfect solution; he ran inside the church and returned with a stack of Watts Hymnals—one of the strongest doctrinal hymnals of the Christian faith (Isaac Watts authored "O God Our Help in Ages Past," "Joy to the World," "Jesus Shall Reign," and several other classic hymns). Distributing the Watts Hymnals among the soldiers served two purposes: first, its pages would provide the needed wadding; second, the use of the hymnal carried a symbolic message. Caldwell took that hymnbook—the source of great doctrine and spiritual truth—raised it up in the air and shouted to the Americans, "Give 'em Watts, boys!"

The spiritual emphasis manifested so often by the Americans during the Revolution caused one Crown-appointed British governor to complain: "If you ask an American who is his master, he'll tell you he has none. And he has no governor but Jesus Christ."

Letters like this, and sermons like those preached by the Rev. Peter Powers, gave rise to the motto of the American Revolution. Most of us are unaware that the American Revolution even had a motto, but most wars do (e.g., World War II—"Remember Pearl Harbor;" the Texas war for independence—"Remember the Alamo;" etc.). The motto of the American Revolution was directed against King George III who regularly violated "the laws of nature and of nature's God."

The motto was very simple and very direct: "No King but King Jesus!"

Preserving American liberty depends first upon our understanding the foundations on which this great country was built and then preserving the principles on which it was founded. Let's not allow the purpose for which we were established be forgotten.

The founding fathers have passed us a torch; let's not allow it to go out.