Sometimes it's the privations that inform. While on active duty, I had on my desk a copy of a diary. It belonged to an American Revolutionary War soldier. A private. The shelves in the history office were lined with books detailing the strategies of brilliant military minds, while the archives contained books that I and others had written as the official record of the fighter wing's operations and the issues facing the wing's leadership. But to repair to that diary was to be reminded that, absent the dedication and courage of the individual soldier, sailor, airman, or marine, generals are but theorists.
I was soon relieved from this guard, and with those who were able, of our two regiments, sent to reinforce those in the fort, which was then besieged by the British. Here I endured hardships sufficient to kill half a dozen horses. Let the reader only consider for a moment and he will still be satisfied if not sickened. In the cold month of November, without provisions, without clothing, not a scrap of either shoes or stockings to my feet or legs, and in this condition to endure a siege in such a place as that was appalling in the highest degree.
Those are the words of Private Joseph Plumb Martin of Massachusetts. Here, he describes the siege at Fort Mifflin, where approximately 400 Americans held off 2,000 British troops and 250 British ships before evacuating the fort on November 15, 1777:
Some of our officers endeavored to ascertain how many guns were fired in a minute by the enemy, but it was impossible, the fire was incessant. In the height of the cannonade it was desirable to hoist a signal flag for some of our galleys that were lying above us to come down to our assistance. The officers inquired who would undertake it. As none appeared willing for some time, I was about to offer my services. I considered it no more exposure of my life than it was to remain where I was. The flagstaff was of easy ascent, being an old ship's mast, having shrouds to the ground, and the round top still remaining. While I was still hesitating, a sergeant of the artillery offered himself. He accordingly ascended to the round top, pulled down the flag to affix the signal flag to the halyard, upon which the enemy, thinking we had struck, [surrendered] ceased firing in every direction and cheered. "Up with the flag!" was the cry of our officers in every part of the fort. The flags were accordingly hoisted, and the firing was immediately renewed. The sergeant then came down and had not gone half a rod from the foot of the staff when he was cut in two by a cannon shot. This caused me some serious reflection at the time. He was killed! Had I been at the same business I might have been killed, but it might have been otherwise ordered by Divine Providence, we might have both lived. I am not predestinarian enough to determine it. The enemy's shot cut us up. I saw five artillerists belonging to one gun cut down by a single shot, and I saw men who were stooping to be protected by the works; but not stooping low enough, split like fish to be broiled.
You see, after the rocket has cast its red glare, the thing has to land someplace. Our liberty, advanced and declared as it was by honorable and courageous men, was won in the mud of battle, amidst the chaos of frantic orders, the screams of the wounded, and pitiless lead shattering bones and ripping flesh. By the end of the siege, 250 of the approximately 400 men had either been killed or wounded. The question necessarily becomes one of why they did it. In the military, we fight for each other, but there must be a larger cause, yes? Otherwise, you have Saddam Hussein's finest surrendering to journalists during Desert Storm. So again, why did these men fight so tenaciously? Why did the Continental Army persevere through conditions that would, as Private Martin observed, "kill half a dozen horses?"
Well, Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi thinks she's found the answer:
Next week, when we celebrate Independence Day we'll also be observing health independence. …'Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' The Affordable Care Act offers just that: A healthier life, liberty [to] pursue [a] person's happiness, to be free of constraint, the job locked, because they're policy locked. So, if you wanted to be a cameraman, a writer, you want to be self-employed, if you want to start a business, if you want to change jobs -- whatever is you want to do -- you are free.
Presumably contained among the freedoms guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act is the freedom to infantilize the considered ideas of Madison, Jefferson, Franklin, et al, to debase the cause for which generations have fought and bled, and to be free of the constraints of coherent rhetoric. If a time machine had allowed Private Martin to hear gibberish like that from a future member of Congress, it would have been understandable had he said the hell with it and gone home.
From a purely utilitarian point of view, Pelosi's formulation is a jumbled mess because; A) a healthier life cannot be secured by any health care law that provides for 16,500 additional IRS agents but not a single additional doctor; B) the pursuit of happiness is necessarily constrained when one is broke, which one is apt to be when one's job has been curtailed or lost due to the impositions of said law on the employer, besides which; C) Great Britain, where government already administers health care, is currently full of people who are neither job locked nor policy locked, who are fully insured and die nonetheless while waiting for rationed medical care, unhappily denying them the freedom to be cameramen, or writers, or to start businesses, or take another breath.
What inspired Ms. Pelosi's rapturous confusion, however, is her troubling misunderstanding of freedom itself. Professor Mortimer Adler concluded that, "Freedom is the emancipation from the arbitrary rule of other men," which stands on its head the animating philosophy of Ms. Pelosi, who generates arbitrary rules by the thousands, bats her eyelashes, rattles her head and merrily declares, "you are free."
The freedom for which the founders pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, was properly described by Samuel Adams thus: "Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right to life; secondly, to liberty; thirdly to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can." Those rights exist in harmony with each other and require no imposition on the rights of others, which is very different from "freedom" as defined by helping oneself to the earnings, time, and labor of others at the point of a gun so as to avoid any responsibility for one's existence. One is freedom, the other plunder, license, and sloth.
It's disconcerting when such distinctions are lost on a high ranking member of Congress. It's calamitous when they are lost on a sitting President. In 1791, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid upon this ground: That "all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people." To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.
To which Barack Obama, describing the Constitution as a "charter of negative liberties," replies:
It says what the states can't do to you, it says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf.
Seeing this bit of chicanery well in advance, Jefferson warned us in 1821 that:
When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.
And so the question is presented: was Jefferson right? At this writing, President Obama has spent between $60 - $100 million of our earnings on a trip to Africa, pausing long enough to lecture residents of the continent on the pressing need to follow American culture in legalizing same sex marriage (Kenyans rebuffed him, with Vice President Ruto reminding Obama that, "Those who believe in other things, that is there business. We believe in God."), and pledging another $7 billion of our earnings for African energy development while simultaneously decimating American energy. His government adds tens of thousands of regulations to cajole and force the American people into his utopian mold, telling us what kind of cars we will drive, what kind of light bulbs we will use, what kind of toilets and plumbing we will have, and what kind of healthcare we will purchase.
Meanwhile, the IRS targets American citizens whose political beliefs mirror those of the Founders, the EPA flies over America's farms just to make sure everyone is behaving, and our government keeps tabs on us, tracking our phone calls, and requiring us to submit our medical information to the federal government in addition to financial information of proctological proportions. What do we get in return? A government that has accumulated more debt than our grandchildren can repay and politicians of both major parties who go into apoplectic fits when asked to just slow the rate of increased spending. Americans, including a US Ambassador, are killed with impunity by Islamic terrorists, and we respond by jailing an American film maker. Predictably, the resulting weakness has earned only contempt abroad, as Egyptians take to the streets condemning American backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, while China and Russia laugh at our demands to have an American who released classified information returned to our shores.
According to the Washington Post, we spend more on education than any other country, and yet the teacher's unions and their liberal allies insist on extracting still more money from the taxpayer while trapping low income families in a failing system. The wretched results were on display recently as a young woman took the witness stand in a murder case, where she confessed an inability to read cursive writing and demonstrated an inability to communicate in anything more than half-literate mumblings, her formal and cultural education having rendered her incapable of recognizing a guttural racial slur as offensive. Our government overseers have prepared this woman for nothing other than subservience and dependence upon the state, cheating her of the realization of the talents, potential, and happiness endowed by the Creator.
Transformation of this sort takes a lot out of a guy (not to mention the taxpayers), and in any event should never be undertaken on an empty stomach. And so the President will soon pause from his fundamental transformation to take yet another taxpayer funded trip to Martha's Vineyard, leaving us to again ponder the question of whether the heritage passed to us from the Founders and secured in battle by every generation since, has been squandered.
I turn again to Private Martin, who wrote:
I happened to be left with a party of seventy or eighty men to destroy and burn all that was left in the place. I was in the northwest battery just after dark when the enemy were hauling their shipping on that side higher up to a more commanding position. They were so nigh that I could hear distinctly what they said on board the sloop. One expression of theirs I well remember. "We will give it to the d----d rebels in the morning." The thought that then occupied my mind I as well remember, "The d---d rebels will show you a trick which the devil never will; they will go off and leave you."
At its heart, the American Revolution was a rebellion against the statist proposition that effective governance is only possible through coercion. Rejecting a society of voluntary associations and contracts, today's liberal, like yesterday's monarch, demands our obedience in matters large and small, and means to punish by any means available those who resist his remedies in favor of such freedoms as the colonists fought for and won. The British were right. They were, and we are, "d----d rebels," who will continue to live as free men and women, resisting, mocking, and ultimately defeating any who would submit us to their whims. Happy Independence Day!