Opinion Columns & Blogs

Judge Uhrig writes, 'Independence Day a time to reflect on hard-fought American freedoms'

This column was first published July 4, 2011 in The Bellingham Herald.

By many accounts, the first man to give his life for my freedom as an American was a black man, Crispus Attucks, killed in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, five years before the American Revolution had actually begun. What a tragic irony that had he lived for another 175 years he still would have been denied many "basic" rights, simply because of the color of his skin. Nonetheless, I contend that despite its faults, America is the greatest and freest nation in the history of mankind.

We celebrate July 4th as the birthday of our nation, as it was the day that the Continental Congress voted on the passage of the Declaration of Independence, demanding freedom from the rule of a tyrannical king. This glorious document is a remarkable blueprint for freedom, and a young Virginian named Thomas Jefferson its principal draftsman.

To fully understand the impact of this document on the world, you must remember that at the time much of the world was ruled by monarchies and an individual only had such rights as granted by their king.

In shocking opposition to such a form of government, Jefferson wrote:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

These simple words shook the world.

Signing this declaration was treasonous act, and each signer knew that if their rebellion against King George was not successful they would receive a sure trip to the gallows. Yet this factious group of men came together to mutually pledge to one another, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

The struggle for American freedom was a long one. The war itself lasted from the first shots of April 19, 1775, until the surrender at Yorktown in October 1781. General George Washington faced defeat after defeat. And somehow, against all odds, providence decreed that this ill-equipped, poorly trained, inadequately fed gaggle of backwoodsmen, farmers, tradesmen and laborers defeated the mightiest army on the face of the earth, and from that forged a new nation - the United States of America. With that, the crowned heads of Europe had to face the Declaration's world-changing notion that men and women are indeed endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, it is not the government that grants rights. This, to me, is what it means to be American, what it means to be free.

The river of freedom flows red with the blood of brave men and women "who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life." Our honor is due to all those who have served the cause of freedom, from the hero on the front lines to the cook to the military payroll workers. And also to the civilians who stayed behind on the home front, the friends, the families and all those who did their part when called upon to do so. Our law enforcement officers, firefighters, medical workers, and even those who serve on jury duty, are also doing their part to help preserve our freedom.

My dad taught me by example that freedom is the ability to stand up for what you think is right, even if you are the only one standing. It is freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom from oppressive government. It is being able to worship as you please, or not at all. It is the freedom to disagree without being ostracized or punished.

We must stand together and we must do our part to preserve and protect our rights and freedoms, as our strength comes from our unity. Our cherished freedom is a gift to us from our ancestors, and it is a legacy we must pass on to our descendants. I am proud to be an American, today and every day.

Superior Court Judge Ira Uhrig, a descendant of Revolutionary War veterans, has served on the Whatcom County bench for nearly a quarter century and is an avid student of American history.