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In many parts of the country... it's hot. In fact, it's more than hot... it's sweltering. Yet, despite the heat and the generally somber mood of the country, there will be 4th of July celebrations all across this country. It will be a day of flag waving, barbeques, family gatherings, street parades, and picnic lunches. Each of them will commemorate the founding of this country, and each will remember the sacrifice of those brave patriots and every solder that has come after them who has fought for liberty and freedom.
However, ten years before America actually declared her independence, revolution had begun. And that revolution began under a 100-year-old elm tree in Boston, when on September 10, 1765, a copper plate with large gold letters was hung in its branches, declaring the tree "The Tree of Liberty."
To understand the inscription, we need to realize what was happening at the time. The British had accumulated a massive war debt during the French and Indian War and they needed a way to pay it off. Much like today, the first and most obvious means of raising revenue was through a tax. And on March 22, 1765, the Stamp Act was passed by the British Parliament.
This tax had an effect the British were not expecting... it enraged the colonists like no other tax had up to that point.
You see, the Stamp Act required a tax be paid on ALL documents: legal documents, permits, commercial contracts, newspapers, pamphlets, and even playing cards! The colonists viewed the tax not only as an onerous financial burden, but as a form of censorship since it would limit the colonists' ability to read and write freely.
The colonists' anger would not be abated, and one hot summer day, August 14th, 1765, a crowd gathered around this large elm tree in Boston to protest this onerous tax. In the tree they hung an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the man charged with collecting the Stamp Tax. There was also a British cavalry jackboot hanging from the branches. An imp-like devil poked its head out of the boot. In its hands was a scroll that said "Stamp Tax."
This was the first blatant act of defiance against the British Empire. This is why the great elm tree became known as "The Tree of Liberty." And this was just the beginning! As 1766 rolled around, the tree became a rallying point for the Sons of Liberty, men who were to become the leaders and champions of the forthcoming American Revolution.
Even after the Stamp Act was repealed, the revolutionary movement continued to gather steam. And with the siege of Boston, the first phase of the American Revolution began. British Loyalists cut down the Tree of Liberty in a spiteful act of retaliation against the liberty-minded colonists. But the memories and values that tree represented continued to live on in the hearts of the colonists. Soon flags began to appear with the Liberty Tree image emblazoned on them and were flown in many battles during the Revolutionary War.
And yet, for all that the Liberty Tree stood for, few Americans today know about this important chapter in American history. We have lost our way... we have forgotten where we came from. Our national memory of these events have been all but left in the dustbin of history. Children today can't even tell us who the Founding Fathers were. They can't tell us why this great experiment in liberty was even begun. And they don't understand the basis of what Americans have inherently believed through the years and why. Perhaps this is why Thomas Jefferson cautioned:
"Yes, we did produce a near perfect Republic, but will they keep it? Or will they in their enjoyment of plenty, lose the memory of their freedom? Material abundance without character is the surest way to destruction. I tremble for my country when I realize that God is just."
Look around you. What we have today is exactly what Jefferson described: "Material abundance without character." And that lack of character brings us lack of morals and integrity in the political process, with elected officials who are more worried about the money they can squirrel away in their freezers and offshore accounts than they are about keeping the Republic. We live in a time when avarice and illusions of power compel men and women to enslave their constituents in onerous tax burdens and to deprive them of their inherent rights under God.
We need to remember. We need to remember how our liberty was won. We need to remember the virtues of faith, love, and self-discipline. We need to remember the values and morals that made this country great.