Vigilance is still the key to freedom

The Fourth of July weekend traditionally is a time for revelry, cookouts, swimming parties and fireworks.

But this year we hope it also was a time of reflection, concern and, perhaps, some fireworks of the non-pyrotechnic variety.

Our nation’s founders and our own American ancestors understood it should be a time of celebration. The holiday also was meant to be a reminder of the kinds of independence sought on July 4, 1776.

“People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both,” one of the founders, Benjamin Franklin, cautioned. He repeated the warning, sometimes varying his wording, several times during his life.

Regularly, often during periods of armed conflict or the threat of it, we Americans worry about losing various liberties. We focus on freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, privacy, the right to keep and bear arms and similar guarantees we can live our lives as we choose.

That is appropriate, especially in view of long-term, accelerating erosion of those liberties. But sometimes we forget the words “security” and “freedom” are relevant in contexts other than protection against armed adversaries.

Franklin understood. It is believed the first time he issued his warning was long before the Revolutionary War, at a time when a tax proposal was being debated in the colonies. He recognized both security and liberty are pocketbook concerns, too.

In part because our culture seems to be strangely antagonistic toward those who are financially successful, we sometimes forget another freedom – to become prosperous and to enjoy the fruits of our labors and, perhaps, good fortune. And we allow ourselves to be deceived into forgetting that schemes to “tax the rich” almost always affect us, too.

Never in our history have we Americans had less control over our own money. Through both direct taxes – such as those the Internal Revenue Service collects discreetly – and indirect ones such as higher prices for health care, food, electricity, gasoline and other necessities, we allow state and federal governments to take enormous sums of our money.

Often, without realizing it, we allow this because we want government to make us feel secure. We do not want to worry about retirement, health care, unemployment and other threats to our ways of life. So we succumb to the politicians’ promises to eliminate all our worries – even about who will pay for our contraceptives.

Government promises to make us secure in many other ways, against weather, unscrupulous businesses -even our own failures to safeguard our interests. Every time, it costs us money. Our money.

And often, it limits our other freedoms, ranging from how much water our toilets will use for a flush to whether we will be forced to go against the dictates of our religious faiths.

Our nation’s founders wanted independence from a greedy, all-controlling government as well as from one that would not allow us to enjoy other freedoms.

We should celebrate our many successes and our wonderful liberties as Americans. At the same time, however, we should reflect that the founders knew constant vigilance would be critical to ensuring we kept the freedoms they gave us. We should question how much real security government has provided us – and how many precious liberties we have given up in exchange.