I believe that freedom is a responsibility.
In 1863, President Lincoln declared, “It is for us the living . . . to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus so nobly advanced.” That unfinished cause for which our soldiers fought in battle, and for which so many gave their lives, is a free United States of America.
Yes, unfinished. It has been one hundred forty three years, and the work President Lincoln spoke of is still not finished. In fact, that work will never be finished. You and I must see Lincoln’s work through. Freedom is the capacity for self-determination. It is not an entity but a condition, and conditions change. Freedom can expand. So can it contract. American soldiers defend our liberty in combat, but without our constant vigilance at home, and without its proper exercise in the course of our everyday lives, freedom will perish. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Victory is never final. It is courage that counts.” Through every war, our soldiers have held this nation’s destiny in their hands. I admire them. They have not failed us. They cherish freedom enough that they are willing to die for it. Our duty to them and to ourselves is to treasure freedom enough to live up to it.
Liberty is the absence of restraints on our ability to think and act. The corollary of freedom is individual responsibility, expressed in qualities like dependability, loyalty, trustworthiness, and accountability. On a higher plane reside virtues like self-denial, fortitude, courage, and passion. Their collective moral force defines a person’s dignity. Dignity is earned in the extent to which a person guards his or her self-respect and accommodates the self-respect of others.
Will we make mistakes? Of course we will! In Gandhi’s words, “Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err.” We must, however, take responsibility for all our actions regardless of outcome and in light of all consequences. Self-respect is attainable only by seeing ourselves truthfully. By respecting our humanity, we acknowledge who and what we truly are. The lesson is humility; its reward, the respect of others. In this manner we push ourselves forward and lift ourselves up.
Today I call upon young people all across America to join me in re-dedicating ourselves to the highest of ideals—freedom. Let us emulate our military heroes who realize that liberty is a strong yet fragile thing, and that the only way we will protect it is by exercising individual responsibility. While freedom gives us the right to live our lives the way we wish, we must remember that it is not what we do in life that defines who we are as much as how we do it. Let us hold ourselves to the highest moral and ethical standards, thereby guarding our self-respect and proving our dignity. Thus do we carry the torch of liberty.
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