I posted this last year, but it bears repeating in honor of the Fourth of July. Happy Independence Day!
While re-reading all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, I was really struck by this one passage from Little Town on the Prairie in the chapter, “The Fourth of July”:
Suddenly she had a completely new thought. The Declaration [of Independence] and the song [My Country ‘Tis of Thee] came together in her mind, and she thought: God is America’s king.
She thought: Americans won’t obey any king on earth. Americans are free. That means they have to obey their own consciences. No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself. Why (she thought), when I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn’t anyone else who has the right to give me orders. I will have to make myself be good.
Her whole mind seemed to be lighted up by that thought. This is what it means to be free. It means you have to be good. “Our father’s God, author of liberty—” The laws of Nature and Nature’s God endow you with a right to life and liberty. Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God’s law is the only thing that gives you the right to be free.
Such a simple but profound idea. Once this connection could be made by a schoolgirl without much of an education at all, just a few years at most in various one-room school houses and some tutorials with her mother. Now how many Americans could grasp this concept? How many would scream “separation of church and state!” horrified that God might be mentioned in conjunction with public life? How many Americans can even reason so clearly any more? How many have such a clear moral sense and such a well-formed conscience and such a clear understanding of the relationship between public and private life?
We don’t have the kind of Independence Day celebrations that Laura describes, at least not I’ve ever been to. Sure we have fireworks displays; but for the most part those have been disconnected from the sort of communal celebration where the reading of the Declaration combines with singing of patriotic songs and a picnic atmosphere. Well, maybe they still do in some small towns and it’s just that I’ve always lived in the city. Anyway, reading tis filled me with longing for that earnest patriotism which seems to be rare these days.
Yet another reason why I’ll definitely be reading these books to Bella. I love Laura’s story telling, her vivid descriptions, I love the Christian values and the love of country, and the sense of a particular, fleeting moment in this nation’s history. I think one could do worse for a role model for a young girl.
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