The month of July, not only marks the birthday of our independence but July 4th and July 14th commemorate American and French Freedom Milestones in freedom and liberty. What may surprise many was how much France contributed. They sent the money, men and material that helped George Washington and company isolate the British army in New York and defeat it at Yorktown in 1781.
Five years earlier, July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress signed off on our Declaration of Independence, which was both a classic statement of natural rights and a scathing indictment of the British king.
The irony was that a king also ruled the French at the time. French help was based on the notion that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” As it turned out, French King Louis XVI might have been better off if he had helped the British king. Three years into George Washington’s first term of office as our first president in 1792, Louis’ head plopped into a basket sliced off by the guillotine.
The beginning of the end for the French nobility’s authority and absolute power was July 14, 1789, the storming of the Bastille. Bastille Day in France is as important a national holiday as our July 4th Independence Day.
However, there is yet another irony surrounding those two days of celebration: It is how the American Revolution took the high road towards constitutional government, when the French Revolution resulted in Napoleon Bonaparte and years of war in Europe.
It is about how leaders like Washington, Adams and Jefferson were able to take our Declaration of Independence, transition it into an enduring constitution and ensure the peaceful transition of power, even when those who relinquished the power hated those who won the election. The roots of what makes the United States of America the envy of the world were planted.
Contrast the enlightened American leadership with what went on during the French Revolution. The French got off to a great start and even drafted a constitution and bill of rights. But in 1792 the newly elected Legislative Assembly went to war against Austria and Prussia on the belief that French counterrevolutionaries were plotting a return of the monarchy.
Enter the extremist Jacobins, who murdered the French king and massacred hundreds of their political enemies on suspicion of disloyalty. It got worse and worse, and in June 1793 the Jacobins took over the Assembly and unleashed a ten-month Reign of Terror that sent thousands to the guillotine.
As George Washington was setting the standards and precedents for the American Republic, the French were eating their young and warring against their neighbors. The rise of Napoleon was the story of the failure of the French experiment in “mob-ocracy”. In the end, they had to choose strong leadership over anarchy and cede liberty in favor of security.
Fast forward to today. Even though our respective revolutions took different paths, we still have close sentimental ties with the French. Regardless of their motives, without French help, American Independence would have been long delayed. A hundred years later, they gave us our iconic Statue of Liberty. T o this very day a beacon of freedom to the entire planet.
In the 20th century, we repaid our debts to France during two bloody conflicts fought on French soil. Ten United States war cemeteries are the final memorials and grave-sites for about 62,000 American soldiers missing or killed in action on French soil.
So this July 4th remember that our Declaration of Independence is the golden center of the American ideals of liberty and self-determination. Our Constitution was the logical and entirely peaceful next step in embedding those ideas in a system of government that has endured nearly two and a half centuries. Both of which sadly in the year 2014 seem to be constantly under attack, ignored and undermined. Do we risk becoming a “mob-ocracy”?
Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it. ~Thomas Paine
Read, learn and pass this post along. Education about the greatness of our Nation’s past is increasingly crucial to our Republic’s future. Watch your inbox for my next installment: Founding Fathers and History — The Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence.
At *your* service,
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