Freedom to Disagree

“His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.”

With these words from Article I of the Paris Peace Treaty of 1783, the sequence of liberating events that began with the issuance of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 came full circle; as Britain’s King George III issued his Proclamation of Cessation of Hostilities, culminating in the new treaty.  Among other conditions, the king formally renounced all claims to the country newly dubbed The United States of America.  Signed in Paris on September 3, 1783, the agreement — also known as the Paris Peace Treaty — formally ended the American War for Independence.  Representing the United States were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay, each of whom affixed their signature to the treaty.

Today, as we do every year on July 4th, we celebrate our independence as brashly as we declared it some 234 years ago; with pomp and parade, fireworks, bells, cannon fire, bonfires and such. Unfortunately, as with many holidays involving fun, food and friends, it’s easy to lose sight of exactly what it is—and why—we’re celebrating.

America’s independence is significant to people around the world because it’s the defining characteristic of our country and its citizens. Most other countries came together because of a common language, religion or ethnicity. The United States of America, on the other hand, was born of a series of principles, beliefs and ideals shared by its founders. Having escaped political and religious persecution in Europe, the first Americans naturally became staunch defenders of exactly that which had been denied them in their native countries—freedom from oppression and the opportunity to prosper.

The War for Independence was our first opportunity to demonstrate precisely how willing we are to fight and die for the freedoms and opportunities that make us distinctly American.  Since then, that willingness has been tested time and time again, as recently as right this second in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Any doubts about the depth of our determination to forever preserve our liberties for future generations can be quickly put to rest by paying a visit to the peaceful and hallowed grounds of the new Sarasota National Cemetery, on State Road 72.

This Fourth of July please take time out from the fireworks and festivities to acknowledge and celebrate the supreme sacrifices our veterans have made in our behalf.  Please pause and pay respects to the fallen heroes among them; and offer prayers and thoughts of support to our troops still on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Too often in perilous economic times such as these—with wars raging on two fronts and fractious politics distracting us from solving some of the nation’s most pressing issues—we hear the pundits question whether America has lost its “mojo.”

“Is America still great,” they ponder aloud, wringing their hands nervously.

To this we need only respond with pride and patriotism:  As long as men are free to ask the question—and at liberty to disagree on the answer—it must be.

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