SP4 Vincent A. Drosdik, III is editor of a weekly newspaper published for personnel of the U. S. Army in Berlin, The Berlin Observer, in which this editorial first appeared.
This year marks the 197th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The War for Independence began officially on July 4, 1776.
The war had been fought for more than a year up to that point. The famous battles at Lexington Green and Concord Bridge, Fort Ticonderoga and Bunker Hill in 1775 preceded the signing of the historic document by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
The events of 1775-1781 are called the War for Independence, but also the American Revolution. But was it a revolution?
I may be nitpicking, but this is an important point. The real revolution was a long process of change in the ideas and ideals on the part of the American people, the settlers from the Old World. The revolution was this idea: that each person is a sovereign individual, with certain inalienable, God-given rights, and that the purpose of government is not to dispense rights, but to protect them. Government would be the servant, not the master of the people.
Among these rights are those to life, liberty and property. One by one, specific liberties were fought for and secured during the colonial period. The freedom of the press was recognized in the famous Peter Zenger case in New York in 1735. Freedom of religion and conscience was one of the major reasons for the settling of our country, and by the time of the Declaration it was fairly well established. It was formalized in the Bill of Rights and the various states as they ended the practice of official state religious establishments.
Other freedoms and rights were reaffirmed and protected in the years before independence — the rights to bear arms, to own property, to have a fair trial by jury, to representative government, the right to be left alone.
When Parliament and the King stepped beyond their rightful powers, the colonists cried that their rights as Englishmen were being violated. The Navigation Acts, which restricted freedom of trade; the Stamp Act, which imposed a tax on the colonies without their approval or consultation; and other usurpations of power, all enumerated in the Declaration, eventually got to the unbearable point. The Americans then declared independence from tyranny, "appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world in the Rectitude of our Intentions."
The American "Revolutionary" War was the most famous and sparked many others in the two centuries since then. The French Revolution only 13 years later, while often compared with the American, was different in nature and results. The American founding fathers succeeded in restricting the War for Independence to simply a revolt against English authority.
But in many revolutions since our own, especially the French Revolution, the course of throwing off the old government led to people throwing off the entire old order, tradition, moral restraints, and so forth — a revolt against everything. This led to anarchy, and then to dictatorship, as people demanded law and order before freedom.
This is the uniqueness of the American Revolution and War for Independence — it did not degenerate into dictatorship and succeeded, after a stormy Articles of Confederation period, in establishing a republic protecting rights to a degree never before attained.
For the American Revolution to be successful and alive today, we must pay the price of "eternal vigilance." The ideals of the Revolution, as embodied in the Declaration of Independence, must be alive in our hearts for that Revolution to be alive and well. If we sleep and forget our heritage, we will lose our freedoms and- liberties, and perhaps even our independence. Because there are those in the world today who are all too eager to enslave us and who are not asleep, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.