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By Mike Sunderland
Thoughts from a Grey-haired Point of View 

The Price of Freedom - Part 1


In my high school days, as a result of our debate team’s outstanding record, and other things, I was honored to receive invitations to speak at the Kiwanis Club, the Alaska Medical Association, the State Republican Convention, among many. I also appeared once on the local Fairbanks television station, and did a couple of shows on the local radio station. Immediately following this introduction is a speech I delivered to the Fairbanks Rotary Club just prior to Independence Day, 1965. Many of the things I said and wrote then still apply today, and all of it is important to recall at all times.

The Independence Day speech was a pretty gutsy thing for a teen to be saying to a roomful of adults. There were probably 50 or 60 of the more influential, wealthy citizens of Fairbanks in attendance. And I gave them an ear full!! NOTE: Due to space restraints the article will be in 2 parts.

Today much is heard about freedom – slogans demanding “free speech,” “academic freedom,” “free love” are but a few of the many being voiced by a vociferous minority. Another group wishes everything were free. In this age of free government money, of a free and permissive society – how many of the minority, or more importantly – how many of you ever considered the price of freedom. I would venture to say very few. Dangerously few.

As Independence Day approaches I can think of no more appropriate a topic than the “Price of Freedom.” Therefore with your indulgence we will proceed with a rather one-sided discussion of the Price of Freedom. But, before I do, I want to issue a warning – this will not be a normal Independence Day speech extolling our great Nation and Heritage. Instead, I am going to play the role of the typical young revolutionary and deliver a small hellfire and brimstone sermon... the type you don’t hear everyday. So, be forewarned!

56 men signed the Declaration of Independence. They were not wild-eyed extremists. Yet, in every sense of the word, they were revolutionaries. They were advocating something new – something never heard of before – Freedom. Freedom from oppression, freedom to be secure in their homes and daily lives.

And they initiated a form of government that naturally follows if such freedoms are to be enjoyed and protected. Even though they did not outline the form in the Declaration of Independence, they delineated the Philosophy behind a constitutional republic – a government that “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.” A form we are rapidly losing to the minority I mentioned earlier.

Yes, they were true revolutionaries. But, they realized that it was and is the inexorable law of nature that a payment must be made for each gain. And they were willing to pay. They knew full well what the penalty would be if they signed. They knew that it would be death if the British captured them.

The 56 signers did not have to take such risks. No indeed. They could have sat idly by and not done a thing. The 11 who were merchants could have declared that they were too busy minding the shop to bother with such matters. The 9 farmers and plantation owners could have bowed out on similar grounds.

The 24 who were lawyers and jurists could have been too busy with cases involving treason to the Crown to engage in such activities. They all had the education and the material means, as well as the excuses to safely weather the impending storm.

But, they were real, honest to God men. They valued their principles and liberties over any material possession – even over life itself. They stood tall and unwavering when they pledged, “For the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” And they meant every word.

There would be no shying away when the payment came due. Pound for pound – penny for penny – death for death – they would pay.

5 of the 56 were captured by the British as traitors. They died after being tortured.

2 lost sons in the Revolutionary Army and another had 2 sons captured.

9 of them fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the war.

20 of them lost their worldly possessions and a few, their families.

Willing to pay? I dare say they were. Just out of curiosity – how many of you can name a least 4 signers of the Declaration of Independence?

How many of you remember Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader? He saw his ships sunk by the British navy. He had to sell his home and properties to pay his debts – debts incurred by supporting the patriot cause, and he died in rags.

Or, Francis Lewis? He was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. And for more than a year he lived in the forests and caves, only to return home to find his wife dead and his family vanished. Weeks later he died from exhaustion.

Or, Lewis Morris and Phillip Livingston? They suffered a similar fate.

And there were many others, all willing to pay the price for Freedom – with their lives or their fortunes – any price. Even their sacred honor if need be. But because they were real men they sacrificed the first two to save the latter – for none ever lost his honor.

Few remember them. Fewer still remember what price they paid so that you and I could enjoy the freedoms we have today. Because of them – because they were willing to die for their convictions – soldiers are not knocking on our doors in the middle of the night to drag us into prison.

Instead of using Independence Day as a time of personal reassessment, of re-establishing our morals and principles, we waste it on valueless, transient actions. Too many look on the fourth day in July only as a day off from work and day on which to take the family on a picnic and set off some fireworks. Is that what July Fourth means to you? Picnics and fireworks? Are your days off so few and far between that you can’t take the time to look at yourself and your country?

This day was not meant to be frittered away – Thomas Jefferson in his last letter written on June 24, 1826 tells us what this day is for. He wrote: “All eyes are opened to the rights of man... let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollection of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.” An undiminished devotion to them... The fireworks and the picnics are merely incidentals.

To be continued in Part 2 next week.


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