The Will To Be Free
MAY 01, 1965 by WYATT B. DURRETTE JR.
Mr. Durrette is pursuing graduate studies in Political Science at
In the strange dialectic of Rousseau the mystery of freedom lies in the forcing of others to be free: a perversion so immense that it has captured many minds in its beguiling grasp.
The Founding Fathers of the
This is a recognition of the essential nature of freedom: that it cannot be imposed from without; it must exist and thrive in the minds and hearts of men or not at all. It is on this foundation that the Founding Fathers sought to construct a nation. Though the structure is important, they knew, and we must remember, that freedom can only survive if men cherish and prize it above all else.
James Madison wrote in The Federalist (No. 39) of "that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government."
Benjamin Franklin voiced this same thought. The story is told that he was asked shortly after the Philadelphia Convention concerning the nature of the product which their labors had produced.
"We have given you a Republic, madam, if you can keep it," is reputed to have been the old gentleman’s reply.
Usually this anecdote is recalled to emphasize that our government was conceived as a Republic, not a democracy, suggesting that the key to the continuity of our concepts of liberty and individual freedom lies in the preservation of this governmental structure. This accounts for much of the effort to protect the integrity of the Constitution by detailed analysis, laborious research, and scholarly writing, and explains why such importance is given to the balancing of power among the three repositories of Federal authority and between the national and state governments.
That this structure has contributed immeasurably to the preservation of liberty is not to be denied. Yet, there was more, an essential ingredient—present in the past, but fading today.
This ingredient is the spirit and vision of freedom captured by the Declaration of Independence and manifested in the Constitution, the fire of liberty which burns in the minds and hearts of individuals. Here is the foundation upon which this nation was built, and the only foundation upon which it can endure.
Thomas Jefferson knew that the strength of our Republic lay in the people’s fidelity to the vision of 1776, to the spirit of freedom: "When that is lost," he wrote, "all experience has shewn that no forms can keep [people] free against their own will."
As Judge Learned Hand phrased it: "
Here then lies our challenge. The governmental framework is important, perhaps vital; but even the best governmental structure is merely a paper barrier against tyranny unless there are those who value freedom.
But when the vision goes, the structure soon follows. Our primary task is to rekindle that vision. Should we succeed, we need worry little about the structure. For the will to be free provides its own structure; and where freedom is found, men manage to create and preserve the framework around which it can grow.