“I will have to make myself be good”

Posted On: July 4th, 2008 | Posted by: Dean

I’ve enjoyed today’s Independence Day posts from several of the bloggers I subscribe to via RSS, whether a simple quoting of the Declaration or a video clip of a fictional call to arms from the “President” in the movie Independence Day. I have my own favorite literary reference to the meaning of the Fourth, and I’d like to share it with you, my readers (though I apologize in advance to those who may find it offensive). It’s from Little Town on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We read the whole “Little House” series to our kids when they were young, and the books continue to have a cherished spot in our family’s shared memories of that time.

The setting is De Smet, South Dakota around 1880. It’s the fourth of July in the tiny town, and a small impromptu celebration has been organized, including horse races and lemonade. A local political type rises to speak, and Laura and her family pay close attention. He begins to read The Declaration of Independence. We’re told:

“Laura and Carrie knew the Declaration by heart, of course, but it gave them a solemn, glorious feeling to hear the words.”

How many of us can say we know it by heart?

The reading of the declaration concludes, and Laura’s narration continues:

“No one cheered. It was more like a moment to say “Amen.” But no one quite knew what to do.

Then Pa began to sing. All at once everyone was singing:

My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing…

Long may our land be bright
With Freedom’s holy light.
Protect us by thy might,
Great God, our King!

The crowd was scattering away by then, but Laura stood stock still. Suddenly she had a completely new thought. The Declaration and the song 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 a 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…

Laura had no time to think any further. Carrier was wondering why she stood so still, and Pa was saying, “This way, girls! There’s the free lemonade!”

Hope you enjoyed Laura’s insights as much as I do. Happy Independence Day!

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