John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State in the administration of President James Monroe, offered a toast to his native America on July 4, 1821. The Republic was yet young, just 45 years after declaring its independence of Great Britain. The glories of its destiny were mainly to come. But the glories foreseen by Adams, the son of America’s second President and destined to be its sixth, were not triumphs of conquest, but rather the majesty of a nation leading truly by the force of example instead of the example of force.
John Stark was a genuine hero of the American Revolutionary War or, if you prefer, America’s War for Independence. That he is not generally known beyond the borders of his native New Hampshire is hardly surprising. After George Washington, not many Americans can name a general of that war. And New Hampshire has made General Stark so much its own that his famous saying, “Live Free or Die,” has been adopted as the state motto and been engraved on all the state’s noncommercial license plates since 1969, replacing the word “Scenic.” The motto has not been universally appreciated, however, and one citizen’s insistence on taping over it became a legal battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Why is it that so much of the world seems mired in hatreds, violence, slavery, and pain? The reason is not complex: Most of the Old World is a patchwork of empires. America was founded, specifically, to create a republic of ordered liberty and to reject the poison of empire. The British Empire, which America's early settlers had left, was one of the more benign. The Commonwealth democracies of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have separated from the United Kingdom gracefully and stayed on good terms with it. Still, would not everyone in Canada have been better off if the French in Québec had been left alone or, now, simply allowed — even encouraged — to form their own nation or a semi-independent polity?
Schoolchildren learn of the crucial and timely role played by France in the American victory over King George III’s redcoats. The personification of the invaluable Gallic assistance to the American cause of liberty is none other than the Marquis de Lafayette.
Several landmark documents from English history have contributed significantly to our own Constitution bulwark of liberty. One of these documents just celebrated a birthday.