|The South Dakota Prairie. Photo by J. Stephen Conn. In the Creative Commons.|
Last summer on the way home from our long summer road trip, we heard in Little Town on the Prairieby Laura Ingalls Wilder about an Independence Day celebration out on the prairie in Dakota Territory. The whole town gathered together for horse racing, but first a citizen gave a speech and then recited the Declaration of Independence. Laura, of course, already knew the Declaration, but listened with great attention taking to heart the founding of her country. After the Declaration, this is how she understood its meaning:
“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 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. “Our father’s God, to Thee, author of liberty…” The laws of Nature and of Nature’s God endow you with a right to life and liberty. Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God’s law is the only thing that gives you a right to be free.”
The book was published in 1941, but gave an account of the mind of a 15 year old girl in 1881. And the ideas are true. This is the kind of literature we all need to read, to remind us of the founding of our country, but also that our freedom is God-given. When we do not keep God’s laws, we are no longer free. We must remind our country that freedom is contained within God’s law, and when we do not live within His law, we are no longer free.