Lincoln and Reagan on America's uniqueness for Fourth of July

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Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan explain the uniqueness of America

July 4, 2024 -

Fourth of July sparklers in front of the American flag. By BillionPhotos/

Fourth of July sparklers in front of the American flag. By BillionPhotos/

Fourth of July sparklers in front of the American flag. By BillionPhotos/

This Fourth of July marks the 248th anniversary of the day America’s Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress.

At the time, Great Britain’s King George III ruled an empire on which “the sun never sets.” Its vast wealth was strengthened by trade and protected by a powerful navy and a professional army, making it a global power of the first order. By contrast, the colonists’ army had little equipment or formal training.

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Here are some facts comparing then to now:

  • In 1776, our infant nation was composed of thirteen colonies with about 2.5 million people. Today, we are fifty states and fourteen territories with a population of more than 330 million.
  • Our economy has grown to over $27 trillion.
  • Our child mortality rate has fallen from over 45 percent to under 1 percent.
  • Our citizens live over thirty-five years longer on average.
  • Our scientific achievements have delivered the light bulb, modern flight, the internet, air conditioning, movies, the polio vaccine, and the list goes on.
  • More than 2.7 million miles of power lines electrify the country.
  • We have paved more than four million miles of roads.
  • We have been responsible for more than eight hundred human visits to space—the most of any country.

But these facts illustrate rather than explain the uniqueness that is our nation. For that, we turn today to reflections by two of our greatest presidents whose insights inspire us today and guide us into our future.

“A golden hope for all mankind”

Between his election as president on November 6, 1860, and his inauguration on March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln explained America’s Constitution and the union it created:

It has a philosophical cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something is the principle of “liberty to all”—the principle that clears the path for all—gives hope to all—and by consequence, enterprise and industry to all.

The expression of that principle in our Declaration of Independence was most happy and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our freedom and consequent prosperity.

Fast forward 120 years to May 17, 1981, and President Ronald Reagan’s Commencement Address at the University of Notre Dame. Here he noted:

This Nation was born when a band of men, the Founding Fathers, a group so unique we’ve never seen their like since, rose to such selfless heights. Lawyers, tradesmen, merchants, farmers—fifty-six men achieved security and standing in life but valued freedom more. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Sixteen of them gave their lives. Most gave their fortunes. All preserved their sacred honor.

In fact, they did far more:

They gave us more than a nation. They brought to all mankind for the first time the concept that man was born free, that each of us has inalienable rights, ours by the grace of God, and that government was created by us for our convenience, having only the powers that we choose to give it.

Then Mr. Reagan put our democratic experiment in historical context:

A few years ago, someone figured out that if you could condense the entire history of life on Earth into a motion picture that would run for twenty-four hours a day, 365 days—maybe on leap years we could have an intermission—this idea that is the United States wouldn’t appear on the screen until 3½ seconds before midnight on December 31st. And in those 3½ seconds not only would a new concept of society come into being, a golden hope for all mankind, but more than half the activity, economic activity in world history, would take place on this continent.

Free to express their genius, individual Americans, men and women, in 3½ seconds, would perform such miracles of invention, construction, and production as the world had never seen.

“When people are free to choose”

“Liberty to all,” as Mr. Lincoln so perceptively observed, was the beating heart of the American experiment. “The concept that man was born free,” as Mr. Reagan noted, still empowers our republic.

This is because our God is free and made us in his image (Genesis 1:27). We therefore have an innate quest for the liberty our nation was birthed to secure. Margaret Thatcher was right: “When people are free to choose, they choose freedom.”

However, as we have noted this week, humans are also fallen. Our freedom, unconstrained by the word and Spirit of God, leads us into ruin rather than prosperity. To be a nation God can bless, we must be a people who seek the blessing of God (Psalm 33:12).

As a result, knowing Christ and making him known is not just an urgent mantra for our chaotic times—it is the most patriotic way we can serve our nation.

John Adams, in defending the freedom for which America was created, declared:

“We recognize no sovereign but God, and no king but Jesus!”

Can you say the same today?

Thursday news to know:

*Denison Forum does not necessarily endorse the views expressed in these stories.

Quote for the day:

“It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favors.” —George Washington

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