They were, as we will be, celebrating America’s foundational document, the Declaration of Independence, the cornerstone of America’s freedoms and liberties. It is the foundation upon which America has been built. Its architect, Nature’s God, raised up and inspired 56 men so a nation of free people could be created and become a beacon and ensign for freedom-loving people worldwide.
While preparing this column, I watched a stirring rendition of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by a BYU student choir. This American classic, written by Julia Ward Howe during the Civil War, caused me to reflect on the many references to God, freedom and liberty in the hymns and patriotic songs embedded in the cultural fabric of our nation.
The words found in this hymn, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord . . . As he (God) died to make man holy, let us live to make men free, While God is marching on . . .,” remind me of the strong beliefs our freedom forbearers had in America’s God.
In our national anthem, Francis Scott Key was inspired to write “. . . Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’s-rescued land Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust!’ And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
“My Country, ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet land of liberty” is the title line of this patriotic song. Verse four begins with “Our fathers’ God, to thee, Author of liberty, To thee we sing”; and closes with “Great God, our King.” In “America the Beautiful” we sing “America! America! God shed his grace on thee . . . God mend thine every flaw . . . May God thy gold refine.” And Irvin Berlin’s classic “God Bless America,” made famous by Kate Smith, suggests America’s source of freedom and liberty in its title.
One is inspired with these words referencing God, freedom and liberty in America’s hymns and patriotic songs. These words tend to remind us of James’ biblical words regarding God’s “perfect laws of liberty” and of God’s untiring efforts to make man free. America’s Founders were students of the Bible and well aware of God’s efforts to make the Israelites a free nation with a set of laws given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
American history should remind all Americans of God’s interventions in helping the colonies win the Revolutionary War. The most famous intervention was at Yorktown where a “miracle” hurricane prevented Cornwallis’s army from escaping Washington’s deadly artillery bombardment. Cornwallis then surrendered and stated “that it even looked like God was on Washington’s side.”
Equally impressive are the inspired words Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence. He firmly established with eight words, in the first paragraph, the foundation of America’s future freedoms — “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God . . .” These eight words state unequivocally that America’s freedoms are dependent on America’s obedience to these laws. The implications are strong — ignore these laws and America will be left to perish in its own uninspired secular wisdom.
Building on this foundation, Jefferson wrote in paragraph two “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator (God) with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness . . .”
In paragraph four, Jefferson continues to invoke God’s divine assistance with “We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the ‘Supreme Judge of the World’ . . .” and “for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Powerful commitments.
As a nation now deeply divided, we need more than ever to follow Jefferson’s example and continue to ask for God to bless the United States of America, and for us as individuals to ponder those inspiring words found so deeply embedded in our nation’s patriotic music and its Declaration of Independence. They are indeed inspiring.
Donald Conkey is a retired agricultural economist in Woodstock.