On July 2nd, 1776, the American Continental Congress voted for independence from Great Britain, setting in motion a chain of events that would give birth to the United States. The next day, John Adams, founding father and future president, wrote to his wife Abigail:
“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival… It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade with shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this continent to the other from this Time forward forever more…”
Two days later, the Declaration of Independence was signed. While Adams miscalculated which date would be the most remembered, he was right about one thing: the commemoration of the decision in favor of America’s independence has been our country’s singular national holiday for the better part of two centuries.
Whatever your opinions of America’s founders and their great political experiment, one thing is certain: never has a nation been more prosperous, powerful, or afforded so many opportunities to its citizens and to those who would journey from across the world to make this great land their home.
But we would do well to think back to the often-told story of Benjamin Franklin, who, when exiting the Constitutional Convention in 1787, was approached by a group of citizens who wanted to know what had been going on inside. When asked what sort of a government the framers had settled on, Franklin is said to have responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
What Franklin knew then — and what Americans have come to discover — is that secular, pluralistic, representative government is a wily beast indeed. John Adams, too, recognized the dangers inherent in the nation they had labored to piece together from an amalgam of enlightenment philosophy, deism, and post-reformation, disestablishment Christianity. In a message to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Massachusetts Militia, he wrote:
Should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practicing iniquity and extravagance and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. (Emphasis added)
And isn’t this precisely the point at which we have arrived? “Practicing iniquity and extravagance”, “rioting in rapine and insolence”, and unable to contend “with human passions unbridled by morality and religion”?
We are, as the Roe v. Wade decision drove home with a hammer blow 42 years ago, as countless lawsuits, elections, and court cases have reminded us of since, and as Obergefell v. Hodges at last indisputably confirmed, no longer a moral and religious people. We have become a nation of lawlessness – civil, natural, and moral.
Catholics have always had a deeply-ingrained respect for monarchy, which flows from our understanding of authority and its origin in God, as well as our profound reverence for Christ the King. With these considerations in mind, it is not my purpose here to debate the moral justifications for the American Revolution or the rejection, on the part of the American founders, of their monarch. We may content ourselves for the time being with a rhetorical acceptance of their stated justification for actions which, should they have failed, would have resulted in the ultimate penalty for treason: “We must all hang together,” Franklin told his fellow signers of the Declaration, “or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
For what cause were they willing to take this risk? For freedom from tyranny. As the revolutionaries declared:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Which “abuses and usurpations” of the king did these men lament? Among them were these, which sound alarmingly familiar:
- A refusal of “Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”
- The forbidding of “his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.”
- “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”
- “He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.”
- “He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.”
- “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent”
- “For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury”
- “For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments”
While the application of these grievances has changed, the effects are unmistakably similar. Of particular note is the final point excerpted, “taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments”.
Ours is a nation of lawlessness, of contempt for our own Constitution, of executive fiat, legislative recklessness, and an imperial judiciary that makes laws from whole cloth. The men who laid the foundations of this nation as a countervailing force against tyranny were, I believe, well-intentioned, but they created a slow-growing monster of even more fearsome mien. For now, we live beneath the ever-menacing jackboot of despotism while we deceive ourselves into believing that we are the ones who rule. We have our bread and circuses, we vote for people whom we neither know nor trust, we advocate for a religious liberty that treats the True Faith as least among equals (and now, not even that) and we are no longer “slouching towards Gomorrah,” but in its midst.
The dream of our once-great nation has slipped through our fingers like sifted ash, but we did not notice, placated as we were before our ever-glowing screens.
We have traded freedom for comfort, and we have medicated the brave into quiet acquiescence. We have elected tyrants who sit on gilded thrones, flattering us with platitudes of popular power as they draw the noose tighter by the day. We are always well-stocked with foreign enemies, which distract us from those domestic. We bear crushing debt, endure state-sanctioned murder and perversity, and find ourselves under the ever-watchful eye of those who have arrogated to themselves the power to determine what we may think, how we may act, the way we may conduct our businesses or educate our children, and what we are allowed to believe.
It is at this point undeniable: we no longer have enough independence left to celebrate. Our shackles may be gilded, but we are fettered nonetheless.
Make no mistake: this is not some futile call to arms. The only revolution is through reform of self; the only effective weapons prayer and penance.
In my home, there will be no festivities this 4th of July, no fireworks. No “pomp and parade,” as Adams would have said. We will still spend time together as a family, but not in celebration; rather, it will be in mourning for what we have lost, and in solemn adoration of our True King. We will call down the help of heaven through Our Lady, under whose Immaculate Conception this land still has its patronage. We will ask Our Blessed Lord to cleanse the demons who now infest our nation – not as invaders, but because we have invited them in.
We are no longer a moral or religious people, though we may yet hope for conversion. Until then, we must face the truth: we have lost our republic, because we failed to keep it.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.