Why did so many people leave home and country to sail in tiny wind-driven ships across uncharted seas to arrive in a country with little knowledge of what they would find upon arrival? Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman and philosopher of the late 1700s, concluded it was “the spirit of liberty.” Was he right? Yes, because no one wants to be shackled, silenced, or coerced. The free people’s spirit of liberty is what makes America beautiful.
To be enslaved is not something we Americans can fathom. We were born into freedom, and we live each day as unrestricted men and women. We say what we think, go where we want, do what we like, pray the way we prefer, and all the while, respect the laws of man and God.
The courageous predecessors of liberty (Abraham Lincoln called them “forefathers”) had first-hand knowledge of bondage, suppression, and servitude.
In the early 1600s, a small band of Pilgrims decided to live free or die. They boarded the Mayflower, a tiny ship with a crew of 30 and 102 passengers, and headed for an unexplored and unsettled land. They brought only a few possessions but did sustain a lavish faith and an overflowing thirst for freedom. Their journey across the Atlantic took 66 days from their departure on September 6 until they arrived at Cape Cod on November 9, 1620.
Imagine getting off that crowded little ship and realizing, “What? No Holiday Inn?” The Pilgrims had to find food and water and literally make their own bed. Their November arrival meant they faced unprepared a harsh winter in which half of them died. That’s freedom – and it isn’t easy.
All people are born with a spirit of liberty. Ask anyone anywhere which would they prefer: someone to plan every aspect of your life or be who you want to be?
Emma Lazarus, the Jewish activist and writer of the poem inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, has Lady Liberty refer to “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The “yearning” is divinely infused into each of God’s children. Over 180 times, the word free and variations of the word (freedom, freely, etc.) can be found in the Bible. The Psalmist cried, “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.” (Psalm 118:5 ESV)
I recall joining Andy Williams to sing with gusto, “Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows, Born free to follow your heart.” As I sang it, I felt the yearning of Emma Lazarus, the thirst for freedom of the Pilgrims, and gratitude for all who sacrificed that I might live free.
This Spirit of Liberty makes America Beautiful, but it can be lost. Suppose we allow an ever-expanding government to suppress our speech, restrict our religion, monitor our movement, twist our history, cancel our culture, and burden our grandchildren with debt? In that case, our (their) liberty will turn to bondage, and America will be no longer beautiful.
The Spirit of Liberty is costly and demanding, but the alternative is frightful. The late great broadcaster, Paul Harvey, said, “After 4000 years, the elusive eagle of individual liberty has been captured and placed in our hands.” God, help us keep America Beautiful.