As Independence Day rolls around each year, I always find myself contemplating three things.

The first is thinking about the traits and characteristics that make America unique. The second is trying to define a “real” American. And the last is wondering whether we’re measuring up to the Founders’ vision.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

July 4, 1776, of course, was the day 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” by declaring independence from British tyrannical rule.

Their defiant act, which led to the Revolutionary War and the founding of the greatest country ever known to man, was considered treason and, if caught, the king of England would have made examples out of each man by condemning them to an especially heinous death.

According to the National Heritage Center for Constitutional Studies, the British dealt with traitors by “hanging to the point of unconsciousness, then being revived, disemboweled, their body parts boiled in oil and their ashes scattered into the wind.”

The king didn’t mess around.

We tend to forget this aspect of America’s founding. It certainly wasn’t a forgone conclusion that the colonists would win. But their desire for freedom from oppressive rule was so great that they took a chance and risked everything.

That is the primordial American trait: a desire for freedom. First, you must have the desire to be free. With that desire raging in your heart, you then summon the bravery and strength required to fight and, God willing, you secure freedom. And that’s what happened in the late 1770s, early 1780s here in the land of the free and home of the brave.

Patriots, who only made up 45% of the population of the 13 Colonies (British-sympathizing Tory loyalists comprised about 15% and so-called fence-sitters, who didn’t take a position, made up the balance), overcame King George III, his Red Coats and their own wishy-washy fellow countrymen to win freedom for all. And 250 years later, we’re still enjoying the freedom they secured.

This desire for freedom doesn’t make Americans unique in the world, since human nature desires freedom. But it does make America unique because here, at least, people have real freedom, enshrined in our Bill of Rights. Our government’s lone job is to ensure individual rights to speech, worship, peaceable assembly, private property and a host of other liberties.

The American government is unique in that it exists to keep the individual free, not to rule over them.

In recent years, this primordial aspect of America – a desire for individual liberty – has been waning, especially in young people who have favorable views of socialism and communism, where the collective is more important than the individual and the concept of freedom is nonexistent. That line of thinking, by definition, is anti-American because the founding of America is all about ensuring the rights of the individual.

A “real” American, therefore, isn’t one who merely lives within the country’s borders or has been born here. It’s one who agrees with the country’s founding principles and would die fighting for them.

We have a lot of people living in America, but how many of us are “real” Americans? How many would die to keep their freedom? I think 2020 showed us the answer.

It was shocking how quickly and easily many governors imposed lockdowns over the entire population with zero input from legislative bodies or much of a fight from citizens. Sadly, our near-total compliance showed how easily we’re willing to give up our freedoms for a false sense of security.

Looking back, if we weren’t even willing to fight for our freedoms despite an overwhelming likelihood of surviving a bout with COVID-19, how would we have responded to the politics of 1776, when the odds of death were much greater if the Revolution failed? I bet most of us would have been loyalists.

Indeed, it’s the lovers of freedom who created America, and it’s the lovers of freedom who will keep all of us free. It’s good to remember this as you enjoy your freedoms this Independence Day.

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