The following is an essay by Hyrum Arnesen, my brother, which won first place in the “America’s Freedom Festival at Provo” essay contest.
No civilization in history has succeeded in maintaining itself. Each one has risen to power, become prosperous, and eventually declined, falling into decay. Can any country escape this fateful cycle? Yes! The Founding Fathers understood the reasons for the downfall of civilizations. They warned the Americans about these dangers, teaching them how they could maintain their freedom. Their formula for freedom included strong families, a willingness to sacrifice, and a strong reliance in God. Building on this foundation will keep our country strong.
For our country to stay strong, its people must be strong. They must be a virtuous, well-taught people if they are to carry on the tradition of freedom in this country. Good families build good people. The teaching in the home cannot be rivaled by any other organization. The Founding Fathers understood this principle. John Adams wrote, “The foundation of national morality must be laid in private families…. How is it possible that Children can have any just Sense of the sacred Obligations of Morality or Religion if, from their earliest Infancy, they learn their Mothers live in habitual Infidelity to their fathers, and their fathers in as constant Infidelity to their Mothers?” John and Abigail Adams exemplified the strength of a good family. While John was away in Congress, Abigail wrote constantly to him, supporting him, encouraging him, and prodding him to keep working in his trying circumstances. She helped to shape his ideas about freedom, as he shaped the country’s ideas about freedom. Today, when children learn in their homes about the heritage of freedom in our country, they can fight for it with strength and power.
America was founded on immense sacrifice. Soldiers bled, froze, and suffered extreme trials. Civilians’ homes were burned or used as stables, livestock was scattered, and food was destroyed or used by the British. However, these people were glad to sacrifice for freedom, for “liberty must at all hazards be supported…at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood.” The Americans were fierce for freedom. They would not, for any reward, give it up. The soldiers at Valley Forge could have deserted, but instead, they endured their trials knowing that “they that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” This heritage of sacrifice continues today. During the Vietnam war a captured American soldier, carefully stitched an American flag from the threads of his own clothing. When the flag was discovered, it was destroyed and he was severely beaten. Undaunted, as soon as he recovered, he started stitching a new flag—the flag that represented freedom, his country, and his willingness to sacrifice for both.
Throughout all their trials, the Americans maintained a firm reliance on divine providence, trusting that God would help them. This reliance is as vital today as it was then. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.” Similarly, George Washington clarified why America needs a strong reliance on God. He said, “The foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; …the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” Our government, our country cannot stand without a firm reliance in God. This country was founded with His aid. It cannot survive without it. We cannot maintain our freedom if we foolishly throw away our Christian morals and principles. As John Adams said, “Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.”
Following these principles of strong families, sacrifice for freedom, and a firm reliance in God will give America strength. Without these principles, America will decline and fall into decay. With these principles, freedom will be protected and America will remain strong. Strong families create strong individuals, sacrifice protects hard-fought liberty, and a firm reliance in God ensures divine intervention in our behalf. The fateful cycle of civilization is broken and America endures in freedom.