We celebrate Thursday on the Fourth of July, our birth as a nation, our independence from a distant and tyrannical government that failed to protect our natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Around this time of year, we tend to contemplate Thomas Jefferson’s paraphrase of the philosophy of John Locke.
In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote about independence: “WE, THEREFORE, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of the Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES.”
Jefferson’s declaration made a strong and sure argument for independence, but it seems to me that during the trying times of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made a strong and sure argument for dependence, dependence on each other as a union of people and dependence on a higher power. Lincoln wrote and spoke in the Gettysburg Address “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
According to Lincoln, our government was established “of the people, by the people, for the people.” We learn about independence from Jefferson, but we also learn about dependence from Lincoln. As much as we cherish independence and individuality in America, we live, after all, in community with each other. Writers such as Wendell Berry have written about the local economy that helps to sustain us, and the local community of which we depend. As much as we tout the new global economy, in times of crisis, we turn not to the far-flung world for comfort, but to our immediate family and friends. Perhaps we need a Declaration of Dependence to go along with our Declaration of Independence.
I know that during a health crisis, my family and I learned a great deal about dependence. We learned how much we took for granted our family, neighbors and friends, how much we had come to depend on them.
Over 300 years ago, Brother Lawrence came to depend on goodness from above. In “The Practice of the Presence of God,” Joseph de Beaufort, Brother Lawrence’s close friend, wrote that in the monastery, “even when he was busiest in the kitchen, it was evident that the brother’s spirit was dwelling in God.”
Brother Lawrence came to depend on God, even while he performed the most menial of tasks. De Beaufort wrote that Brother Lawrence “often did the work that two usually did, but he was never seen to bustle. Rather, he gave each chore the time that it required, always preserving his modest and tranquil air, working neither slowly nor swiftly, dwelling in calmness of soul and unalterable peace.”
Our thoughts have turned of late to Thomas Jefferson and the independence we share as a nation, but our thoughts also turn in gratefulness to dependence on our community of family, neighbors and friends. And like Brother Lawrence, this writer is learning to depend on another source for courage and strength. Such is my Declaration of Dependence.
Duane Bolin is Professor Emeritus of History at Murray State University. Contact him at email@example.com.