Independence Day is my favorite secular holiday, and I’m always kind of sad the morning after. A melancholy mood falls over me as I collect the spent cardboard tubes that held fireworks a few hours earlier, sweep up the charred remnants of smoke bombs and Black Cats, and eat the last of the leftover hot dogs for breakfast. I love how we celebrate this country and its promise every year. I just wish we did it every day. Maybe we could compromise and have Independence Week. After all, the founders actually voted for independence from Great Britain on July 2. John Adams thought that would be the “most memorable Epocha in American history." Nope. But there’s no reason we couldn’t celebrate on the 2nd as well as the 4th.
The bravery, valor and above all perseverance of those who fought and supported the War of Independence are responsible for the greatest gift one generation of Americans has ever given another—freedom. The nation that was finally recognized by its mother country seven long years after independence had been declared was born from both revolutionary and conservative desires. Revolutions are, by their very nature, not about conserving the status quo, but the Founding generation didn’t set out to restructure society, as leaders of the French Revolution did with the help of the guillotine a few years later. Instead, this revolution was about a restoration of rights that had been lost. Thomas Paine waxed eloquent about Americans “having the power to rebuild the world anew,” but that wasn’t what the War of Independence was really about. It was about the power to restore freedoms and liberties lost. It was about creating a country that everyone acknowledged was imperfect, but could lead to a more perfect union.
Instead, this revolution was about a restoration of rights that had been lost.A little more than a decade after the Declaration of Independence was signed, the American people were confronted with a new challenge: Instead of declaring independence, the nation was asked to declare that it was operating under a new system of government. The concern of Americans that the rights they had fought for could be taken from them by a powerful federal government led to the drafting of the Bill of Rights. No new rights were established by that document. Instead, as the preamble states, “the conventions of a number of the states … expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of [the Constitution’s] powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added.” These restrictions weren’t on the people, they were laid on the government. Hands off our freedom of speech and religion, and our right to privacy. Keep away from our right to a trial by jury, our freedom to assemble, our right to keep and bear arms.
In 1776, the American people told King George III and Parliament that they weren’t going to put up with being stripped of their rights. In 1787 on through 1791, the American people told Congress that they weren’t interested in losing their rights to a government of their own choosing, either. And now in 2017, it seems we have an awful lot of Americans who are shouting, “Take my rights away!” Who needs free speech if it can cause hurt feelings? Who needs to peaceably assemble if masked Antifa protestors will just show up and smash the windows of a Starbucks in response? And who needs the right to keep and bear arms if criminals are using guns to commit violent crimes? We’ll all be better, so they say, if we can just accept a few “reasonable restrictions” on our rights.
These rights are worth fighting for. For millions of Americans, they’ve been worth dying for. These rights haven’t always been exercised freely or equally by all Americans (we are still working towards a more perfect union, after all), but the guiding principle of this nation is that it is a better place when we are all afforded our rights, not when we gut them or allow them only to a select few. But the task of protecting our rights is up to us now, not the authors of the Bill of Rights, the Americans who voted to ratify them or the Americans who perished defending them. As the Independence Day fireworks and flag waving fade into our Instagram-assisted memories, we need to keep working in the spirits of ’76, ’87 and ‘91: That all of us equally possess certain unalienable rights, that those rights are worth protecting, and unless we use our voice and our vote, there’s no guarantee they will be.
Cam Edwards is the host of “Cam & Co.,” which airs live 2-5 p.m. EST on NRATV and midnight EST on SiriusXM Patriot 125. He lives with his family on a small farm near Farmville, Va. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @camedwards.