Acton Institute Powerblog

American Independence and the Spirit of Liberty

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Ralph Waldo Emerson quipped “There is properly no history; only biography.” It’s a line that lends to exaggeration for effect but speaks to the centrality of narrative and story. One of the great books I had the pleasure of reading about in regards to our story of independence is Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer. It was fascinating to read about how a group of men came together to defend their property, way of life, and community against the British Crown. Fischer does a good job at pointing out how many of the leaders of the skirmish on the roads to Lexington and Concord were Christian ministers. Ministers were often the most educated in a community and the colonists looked to them first for leadership, especially in a situation so grave where the taking up of arms was considered.

One of the experiences that shaped me deeply in my appreciation for this country was living overseas in Egypt. When you see deep subjugation of people and heartbreaking poverty it humbles you and helps you appreciate the opportunities and blessings freedom can provide. Right now, there is understandably a lot of uncertainty about the future of this country. This includes our massive debt, economic health, prosperity, and certainly the moral order. One of the things I think I try to articulate through some of my writing and talks here at Acton is the importance of getting back to first principles. It is something all of us here at Acton are intentional about focusing on in the work we do. A great example is our discussion about the budget and the proper role of government. It is evident that as government intrusion grows it becomes even more clear that politics and politicians are unable to solve our national ills.

In speaking about America and the story of America, another book that has had a tremendous impact on me and really is an essential story for thinking about what it means to be an American is When Hell Was in Session by Admiral Jeremiah Denton. For some, his story may appear to be one that has faded with time or was more important in a Cold War context. But as Christians know, while believers wouldn’t willingly choose suffering, there is something powerful that happens to us in Christ when we suffer. Denton suffered brutal beatings and mental anguish during his almost eight years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam from 1965-1973. He had plenty of time to grow in his faith under his communist captors. Under those extreme circumstances, he also came to a deeper understanding about the foundations, ideals, and way of life he was defending as an American and why they were so valuable.

In the colonies during the Revolution a common cry was “There is no king, but King Jesus.” It was certainly a slap at the Crown, but it also showed the revolution was grounded in first principles and freedom flows from God and not from a monarchy, or human power. Scripture declares, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” It of course refers to spiritual liberty and not political liberty. It’s ultimately a majestic reminder that through trials, breakdown of society, and all of our national despair on display so well in Washington and across this land, that our hope and grounding is found in Christ.

Many of the men, many of them not unlike us, afraid for their future and the direction of their colony, nervously huddled together on the Lexington and Concord road with muskets in hand to deliver the “shot heard ’round the world.” They understood that spiritual truth and that God was their hope and anchor. Edward Mote summed up the situation we all face well when he penned the hymn “My Hope is Built.” His simple words: “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of the the North State Journal in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.


  • Great post, Ray. Perspective is everything in times like these.

  • Anonymous

    Far too many libertarians today claim “There is no king, no religion, not even Jesus, only the Bottom Line of Corporate Profit counts, and all human lives are expendable”.

    Liberty is only liberty if it is used to do good.  When virtue dies, so does liberty and freedom entirely.

    • Roger McKinney

      Don’t recognize any libertarians in your description. Where did you come up with that nonsense?

      • Anonymous

        Then you haven’t been reading your Ayn Rand or Von Mises on the subject of theology.  I took that straight from Atlas Shrugged.

        • Roger McKinney

          Sorry, I didn’t remember that line from the novel. Keep in mind that Ayn Rand was not a libertarian. She had her own atheist philosophy and could get along with no one. She considered Mises a socialist.

          I have read just about everything Mises wrote. He was anti-religion in his younger days because all he knew in Europe were Christian socialists. But when he came to the US and met Christians who understood economics he mellowed a great deal. His biographer wrote that he became a fan of Karl Barth. In one of his later books Mises wrote that the theologians who claim that the only certain truth comes from revelation were right.

          • Anonymous

            I still prefer _Caritas In Vertitate_ to any form of capitalism.  When rights are not subject to duty, they become mere license to commit evil, and that’s all I see in Mises’ economics- an attempt to turn the mortal sin of greed, by fraudulent means, into a virtue.

            At least the Pope respects life enough to claim that food is a human right:
            The Right to Life trumps all other rights.  Because if you don’t have the right to life, you don’t have anything at all.Capitalism is great for providing luxury.  It can even- when properly distributive- be good for providing every man a means to feed his family.  But once centralization of ownership into cities and corporations begin, the good leaves capitalism.  The reason is because money is a form of power- force and fraud are always rewarded, never punished- and absolute power in an absolute right of corporate property will corrupt absolutely.

  • Roger McKinney

    “the importance of getting back to first principles.”

    Yes, and in any other field of activity that would be called getting back to the fundamentals, and you would be a fundamentalist. In investing and sports being a fundamentalist is a good thing. It’s a shame the mainstream media ruined a good word.

  • Terry Ingalsbe

    Great post.  Thank you.  Yes, there is no King, but Jesus!