Over the past 80 years, many American children have enjoyed the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. In the above photograph, taken in 1894, she is standing behind her father, Charles Ingalls. Wilder’s books were based on her childhood experience in the American midwest in the late 19th century. In my lifetime, Wilder’s books were made into the popular television series Little House on the Prairie.
This is what it means to be free
Today is the 238th anniversary of the founding of the United States of America. My birthday gift on this occasion is to share the account of an Independence Day celebration in the year 1881, in the town of De Smet, South Dakota. This account is found in the book Little Town on the Prairie, published in 1941.
Pa [Charles Ingalls], Laura [who was 14 at the time] and Carrie [Laura’s younger sister] had gone into town to enjoy the day’s festivities, which included firecrackers, a horse race and free lemonade. “The Stars and Stripes were fluttering bright against the thin, clear blue overhead,” and someone just finished reading the Declaration of Independence to the large gathered crowd….
No one cheered. It was more like a moment to say, “Amen.” But no one quite knew what to do.
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, 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.
Laura had no time then to think any further. Carrie was wondering why she stood so still, and Pa was saying, “This way, girls! There’s the free lemonade!””
I recall Step 94, “My freedom is to find my purpose” of Steps to Knowledge, as I contemplate Laura’s experience. This is what it means to be free. It means, you have to find your purpose and fulfill it.
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