July 12, 2014
In recent years I have celebrated America’s Birthday by watching the movie 1776
. I watch it alone, in the early morning or when everyone else is at the fireworks. Much of the language is objectionable. My dvd (the 1972 G-rated version) has been edited to remove the inappropriate use of the Lord’s name, although there are still some other inappropriate things that have prevented me from inviting my family to watch it. (The later version in which footage originally cut has been restored is rated PG and is longer. It may be the only one available.)The characters are often incorrectly portrayed, of course, but the inaccuracies move me to study a little bit every year to get to know our Founders. This year I found a particularly good book (hiding in plain sight on my bookshelf) that tells the story of the Declaration
and gives the biographies of the signers. It is a reprint of an 1848 publication entitled The Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence,
by Benson Lossing, republished by David Barton at Wallbuilders. I strongly recommend the book.The portrayals of John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin are what I love most about the movie; however, although far less literary license taken with them, what is taken may be much more egregious. For instance, at one point shortly before the final vote we have this conversation, which appears on the 3-minute trailer:Dickinson: …why do you refer to King George as a tyrant?
Jefferson: Because he is a tyrant.
Dickinson: I remind you, Mr. Jefferson, that this “tyrant” is still your King.
Jefferson: When a king becomes a tyrant he thereby breaks the contract binding his subjects to him.
Dickinson: How so?
Jefferson: By taking away their rights.
Dickinson: Rights that came from him in the first place.
Jefferson: All except one – the right to be free comes from nature.
This conversation appears on the 3 minute trailer.
What does “comes from nature” mean? The actual line in the Declaration is, “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Apparently the writers wanted to leave God out of the story except when using His name as a pejorative.
What did the words “nature and nature’s God” mean to the Founders? William Blackstone (1723-1780) explained:
- As man depends absolutely upon his Maker for everything, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his Maker’s will. This will of his Maker is called the law of nature. . . . This law of nature, being coeval [coexistent] with mankind and dictated by God Himself is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times; no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this. . . . The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law and they are to be found only in the Holy Scriptures [i.e., the “laws of nature’s God”]. . . . Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered [permitted] to contradict these.
When I went on Amazon today I discovered over 600 reviews of 1776
. I only read a few pages, but I found that many people watch this movie on the Forth of July. I had thought I was the only one! I also learned that nearly everyone in my small sample who commented was moved by the movie, most accepted it as a true representation, and only one mentioned that it was not necessarily accurate. No wonder our country is so confused. Storytelling is powerful, and this story is especially so. Because I know that the Founders were inspired, religious men, I hadn’t realized that other people might not.This year I did attend the fireworks because we had family visiting from out of state. A few days later Glenn Beck commented that he and others of his staff and audience had felt differently this year watching fireworks; something was missing. His comments made me think about what I have felt in rcent years, and I can now put my own feelings into words: After so many generations of false teaching of American history in our homes and schools, I don’t think most people know what we should be celebrating. Maybe some are celebrating fireworks and possibly a vague idea of “free,” but not the Declaration of 1776 and all that goes with it. How can we celebrate what we don’t know? If we were to light candles on a decorated cake to celebrate the birthday of someone we’ve never met and isn’t present, would it be soul-satisfying? Candles are fun, cake tastes good, but having nothing to connect us to a reason for the celebration makes the event shallow.Have you celebrated Independence Day yet? If you watched the fireworks and came away feeling empty, or if you want to celebrate again, may I suggest that you watch President Hinckley’s
1997 Freedom Festival presentation, made available by Zion Tube, my favorite video resource.And then may I suggest that we all commit to learning our nation’s founding documents, history, and principles. This is not just something nice to do; it is imperative if we want to save our country. And it’s not just for homeschoolers; it’s for all Americans. We should teach our neighbors. The time is short.
Someday we may have the privilege of meeting our nation’s founding patriots, and it might please them if we knew them accurately and appreciated their contributions. We surely need their help now.
Celebrating the 4th of July should be a rich spiritual experience. I don’t know whether 1776 should be part of your celebration, but try this closing scene, with my apologies for any bad words.