People who think they ought to be free, and think they are not

Reflect how you are to govern a people who think they ought to be free, and think they are not. Your scheme yields no revenue; it yields nothing but discontent, disorder, disobedience; and such is the state of America, that after wading up to your eyes in blood, you could only end just where you begun.

Edmund Burke, “First Speech on the Conciliation with America” (1774)

When Burke challenged British Parliament to recognize that the American Republic was inevitable, he understood the force of arms was powerless in the face of those who aspired to be free long. Perhaps these words should be on the mind of rulers in the Arab world today.

Since the time of Burke's speech, we have seen many who believed "they ought to be free, and think they are not” rise up and change the course of their own nations, as well as the course of world history. Today, we watch as long-standing tyrants in places such as Libya and Syria find that not even bullets and tanks can keep their people from rising up for their own freedom.

Just as our ancestors overcame those “times which try men’s souls”, let us hope those fighting for their freedoms in the Middle East are able to endure and prevail.

Within a year of my oldest daughter’s birth in 1989, a new wave of freedom swept central Europe, toppling tyrants from the Baltic to Mediterranean. This year, in the first year of my first granddaughter’s life, a new wave of freedom is sweeping the Arab world. I can only hope that my granddaughter’s children will also be born into a world where the cause of liberty continues to advance and that the number of nations where governments are the masters of men, instead of their servants, continues to shrink.

As we celebrate the birth of our Republic and give thanks to those who conceived it and defended it, we should look to the growing number of people around this planet who “think they ought to be free, and think they are not” as vindication of the noble cause which inspired the birth of our nation.

But these gains mean nothing if our nation cannot remain true to the cause of human liberty. While we give thanks and look to events elsewhere as signs of hope, we should ask ourselves what we have done to honor the sacrifices of others, here and abroad, past and present, and ensure those sacrifices have not been in vain.

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