Freedom’s future can turn on the actions of one.
One hundred and fifty years ago, the fate of America was decided at Gettysburg. For three days, Union and Confederate armies fought the decisive battle of the Civil War. On the second day of the struggle, General Robert E. Lee ordered his troops to sweep behind enemy lines. Through the sweltering heat of summer afternoon, they swept toward the rocky hill that represented the end of the Union position—Little Round Top.
If they could take that position, they would win the battle.
If they won the battle, they would win the war.
If they had won the war, the United States of America, the exceptional nation—a state founded on the belief that the only source of the legitimate powers of government is the consent of the governed—would be overthrown by the force of arms.
So the fate of freedom hung on one day’s battle in a four years’ war. It rested on the shoulders of the one Union regiment holding the far side of Little Round Top. And, as the boys in blue lined up shoulder to shoulder on the crest of the hill, it rested on the courage and determination of the last soldier in line. On that day, for that soldier, there was no one else left. There was no one on his shoulder. If he fell, failed, or faltered, then the soldier next to him would be uncovered, and so it would go until the entire Union line was rolled up and in retreat.
On that day, freedom’s fate rested on one man. He stood. The republic survived.
The fight for freedom is never over. Sometimes it is saved in sacrifice—on the fields of Gettysburg, on the beaches of Normandy, in the mountains of Afghanistan. Sometimes, it is saved in the battle of ideas—on the streets of Selma, at the grassroots, at a town hall meeting, in the halls of Congress.
What those who cherish and value freedom, who believe in the noble purpose of the exceptional nation, can never assume is that there will always be someone else who will do their fighting for them.
In a world where freedom is a flame that strong winds are always trying to extinguish—those who believe in the unique American conception of ordered liberty are the last man standing—there is no one on our shoulder. If we falter, if we fail, then who is to say others will stand?
In the fight for freedom, never question who is the last line of freedom’s defense—it is all of us.