This July 4, more than any of recent memory, it is right to reflect on "the blessings of liberty" and the acts of heroism required to secure them. The events of the last ten months have reminded us that despite their fame and talents, professional athletes, pop singers, and movie stars are not genuinely "heroic." Americans now look in admiration upon those firefighters, police officers and soldiers who risk — and sometimes sacrifice — their lives for others. This is a truer heroism, both sobering and inspiring.
In its highest form, heroes are those rare individuals who exercise physical, moral, and intellectual virtue far beyond the capacity of ordinary men and women. During the time of the American Founding, one hero stood out above all others: George Washington. By his example, the rest of us can see what it means to be courageous, temperate, wise, and just. Washington shows us in his actions, and teaches us in his writings, how to be a self-reliant, self-governing citizen of the freest nation on earth, and he makes clear the lengths to which citizens must be willing to go if they are to defend that freedom.
On July 2, 1776, Washington sent general orders to his officers explaining the war effort:
The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their Houses, and Farms, are to be pillaged and destroyed, and they consigned to a State of Wretchedness from which no human efforts will probably deliver them. The fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance, or the most abject submission; this is all we can expect. We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die. Our own Country's Honor all call upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world. Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble Actions. The Eyes of all our Countrymen are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings, and praises, if happily we are the instruments of saving them from the Tyranny meditated against them. Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and show the whole world, that a free man contending for liberty on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.
Seven days later, on July 9, 1776, Washington ordered his officers to read the Declaration of Independence to the troops, thereby explaining the rightness of the American cause.
This Independence Day we invite our fellow Americans to reflect on the meaning of July 4th with special attention to George Washington, the indispensable man of the American Revolution. In celebration of Washington, PBS will air a fine new documentary movie, Rediscovering George Washington, produced by Michael Pack and narrated by Richard Brookhiser, both friends of the Claremont Institute. The movie will air the evening of July 4th throughout most of the country. It will air on Sunday, July 7, in Southern California and other select markets. (Check your local listings or visit pbs.org for programming information.)
The Claremont Institute has produced the companion web site to the documentary. The site features historical documents, lesson plans, timelines, audio files, and images about America's Founding Father. Above all, the site and the movie aim to teach the qualities of Washington's character — those habits of mind and body which propelled him to the center of a revolution that established the first free government on earth and changed the course of human history.