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‘The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave’

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Shop all books by Judge Napolitano When Francis Scott Key wrote the words “the land of the free and the home of the brave” in 1814, he did so in a poem called “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” The battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore was a decisive one in which Americans truly demonstrated bravery and fought for freedom. This was the War of 1812, the origins of which are lost to history. The British government claimed that President James Madison had designs on the British king’s lands in Canada, and so it attacked the U.S. The Americans argued that the British government’s stated reason for its attack was a pretense, as its real goal was to re-capture what many Britons still considered to be their colonies. They thought this even

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Shop all books by Judge Napolitano

When Francis Scott Key wrote the words “the land of the free and the home of the brave” in 1814, he did so in a poem called “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” The battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore was a decisive one in which Americans truly demonstrated bravery and fought for freedom.

This was the War of 1812, the origins of which are lost to history. The British government claimed that President James Madison had designs on the British king’s lands in Canada, and so it attacked the U.S. The Americans argued that the British government’s stated reason for its attack was a pretense, as its real goal was to re-capture what many Britons still considered to be their colonies.

They thought this even though the Treaty of Paris, signed by the United States and Great Britain in 1783, unambiguously recognized the United States of America as a free, independent and sovereign nation.

Notwithstanding its origins, the War of 1812 brought Americans perilously close to being British subjects again. Both the U.S. Capitol and the White House were burned and severely damaged, with President and Mrs. Madison narrowly escaping.

After the British tired of the war and went home, Key’s poem was set to the tune of a drinking song, popular among British soldiers and sailors. It was re-named “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and it became a popular patriotic piece meant to commemorate American freedom and the bravery of those who fought to preserve it. A century later, it became our national anthem.

The phrase “the land of the free and the home of the brave” is as American as any one-liner in our history. Could it be we have repeated it so often that we have lost sight of its meaning? Is the United States today the land of the free and the home of the brave?

This is a painful question to ask and answer in these trying times. The government has persuaded nearly all of us, with its selective employment of scientific data, that we are suffering from an unavoidable viral pandemic that originated in China.

It probably did originate there, but the Trump administration declined to take it seriously for nearly three months. Drop by drop, the intelligence data is being released or leaked, and it shows an administration indifferent to the plight of folks from China traveling west, gullibly accepting the deceptions of the government of China, arrogantly self-confident that it can’t happen here, ignorant of the ease with which a virus passes among the heedless, and unwilling to grasp the dangers making their way here.

Once the virus arrived here — like a tidal wave — the government’s response has been to treat the freedoms for which brave men and women have fought and died as if they are not the inalienable personal rights Madison and Thomas Jefferson and all the founders and framers and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution called them but rather privileges subject to government permission slips.

The Constitution openly and directly prohibits all governments from interfering with personal liberties like speech, press, travel, assembly, religion and commercial intercourse. And it prescribes the means for the government to follow if it can show that the freedom of some — like a bank robber — needs to be curtailed.

A bank robber gets a fair jury trial before losing his basic freedoms. Today, the government threatens and punishes us without trial for exercising basic freedoms.

And all this do-as-I-say-today-or-face-newly-crafted-government-punishment nonsense, which is enforced by reluctant police who would rather chase a bank robber than a jogger in a government-owned park, is not the result of legislation enacted after a broad national debate, nor is it authorized in the Constitution. Rather, we have been silenced and immobilized and humiliated by the commands of 50 state governors — some more in-your-face than others — all profoundly offensive to the personal freedoms that the Constitution purports to guarantee.

Is the United States today the land of the free and the home of the brave?

To ask that question is to answer it. We have little freedom remaining because of our timidity. Most folks are content with an overbearing government acting as if we work for it and trampling our liberty in the name of public safety.

History shows that it takes a determined minority to seek and to preserve freedom. Harvard Professor Bernard Bailyn, the country’s foremost scholar on the colonists at the eve of Revolution, has concluded that barely one-third of them favored violent secession from Britain.

Today, polls show a smaller percentage of present-day Americans as outraged at the loss of freedom as were those prepared to fight the Revolution against the king.

Is the United States today the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Let’s answer rationally, not emotionally. We have lost liberty without a shot being fired because most Americans prefer the comfort of safety to the battles for liberty. We have allowed elected officials to do to us what our forebears shed blood in wartime to prevent foreign governments from doing to us.

All elected state governors in power today have nullified the freedom-protecting clauses of the Constitution. If those clauses can be nullified, then of what value are they? By supinely accepting all this, today we are neither free nor brave. Today, we are the land of the fearful and the home of the confined.

Does the government work for us, or do we work for the government?

Reprinted with the author’s permission.

Andrew P. Napolitano
Andrew Peter Napolitano (born June 6, 1950) is the Senior Judicial Analyst for Fox News Channel, commenting on legal news and trials, and is a syndicated columnist whose work appears in numerous publications, such as Fox News, The Washington Times, and Reason. Having served as a New Jersey Superior Court Judge, he now teaches constitutional law as a Distinguished Professor at Brooklyn Law School. Napolitano has written nine books on constitutional, legal, and political subjects.

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