Today we inaugurate the forty-third President of the United States. It is an interesting experience for me, because, living here in Texas, I share many mutual friends with George and Laura Bush. There are many familiar faces flashing past on the podium. I remember when my father began to speak of George Bush Sr. as a newcomer, when he first began to make a name for himself in the oil business. Later on, I wondered how it must have felt to lead America into war, and how difficult the decision must have been not to pursue Saddam Hussein to Baghdad. I wonder, as we move daily closer to war in the Mideast, how our new president must feel, knowing that he, also, may have to command the nation in a war there.
But those are not my primary thoughts today. Today, I am thinking of the foundation of our country–those men and women who gave of their lives and wealth that we could be free. My mother’s family gave sons and daughters to the revolution, but there is little memory, even in the family, of the sacrifices that must have been involved in choosing a raggedy army and what was then considered a most improbable form of government, over the greatest power in the world.
The dry elegance of historical memory has covered the suffering of the founders, and added distance and formality to their courage. But it is worth recalling today that the early years of this country involved extraordinary sacrifice, and it is upon the sacrifice of the founders that our freedom rests.
The Declaration of Independence, for example, was signed by fifty-six men. When they did this, they were all but alone in a vast empire, and this is what happened to them:
Twelve had their homes destroyed and their property confiscated and became destitute. Five were executed. Nine died in the Revolutionary War. One, John Hart, was driven from home as his wife lay dying. He lived in the countryside for a year, often sleeping in caves or under the stars. When he returned, he found his property destroyed, his wife dead and his children gone. He died a few weeks later. The suffering of many others was just as great, and their act of treason has only been dignified as one of courage because their improbable republic has become a great nation. Had their courage failed, the Declaration of Independence would have become the forgotten polemic of a few malcontents.
“For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
How sacred, how very sacred, is the honor of a free man, and how great the dignity of a republic, especially a cherished republic such as our own. We must never assume our freedom. Each day, each of us must be a minuteman, prepared on the instant to defend our right to command our own personal destiny, be it from the collectivist scheming of the left, or the moral legislation of the right.
The next four years will be a time of great testing for the United States, and for the cause of freedom within our country. We fended off the left’s attempts to control our lives when we replied to the Clinton health plan with the Republican revolution. But we did not become members of the right when we did this. We used the right to protect us from the left. This is a middle-of-the-road country, because the middle is also the center of freedom, where all is tolerated that can be tolerated. As the embattled majority finds itself fighting first the left and then the right on behalf of freedom, the phrase ‘radical center’ is beginning to define us more truly than any other.
Now we must be wary of the possibility that the right will attempt to influence this president to seek control over our moral life. For that is what the extremes are about: the left wants economic control; the right seeks moral control.
My father used to say, “the sweetest freedom is the freedom to sin.” Let the politicians command the army and direct the affairs of state, but let God and my conscience command my soul.
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