TODAY, we rarely hear of our personal responsibilities in discussions of broad notions such as freedom or liberty. It is as though freedom and liberty exist wholly independent of anything we do, as if they are predestined.
Related to this, our era is one in which different treatment or outcomes are inherently suspect. It is all too commonly thought that we all deserve the same reward or the same status, notwithstanding the differences in our efforts or abilities. This is why we hear so often about what is deserved or who is entitled. By this way of thinking, the student who treats spring break like a seven-day bacchanalia is entitled to the same success as the conscientious classmate who works and studies while he plays--and isn't this same sense of entitlement often applied today to freedom?
At the end of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was asked what the gathering had accomplished. "A republic," he replied, "if you can keep it." Nearly a century later, in a two-minute speech at Gettysburg, Pres. Abraham Lincoln spoke similarly. It is for the current generation, he said, "to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
So many who have gone before us have done precisely that, dedicating their lives to preserving and enhancing our nation both in war and peace, taking care that those who have given the last full measure of devotion have not done so in vain.
It is appropriate that we should reflect on our ancestors' understanding of what was to be earned and preserved. America's Founders and many successive generations believed in natural rights. To establish a government based on the consent of the governed, as the Declaration of Independence makes clear, they gave up only that portion of their rights necessary to create a limited government of the kind needed to secure all of their rights.
The Founders then structured that government so that it could not jeopardize the liberty that flowed from natural rights. Even though this liberty is inherent, it is not guaranteed. Indeed, the founding documents of our country are an assertion of this...