What does it mean to be free? To be an American? What is freedom?
I was reading to my seven-year-old daughter. We’ve been going though the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and came across this powerful, simple, and moving answer to these questions. How we need to remember this in our day.
The story picks up when Laura, Carrie and Pa are visiting the small farm town of DeSmet, South Dakota, celebrating the Fourth of July. The climax of the celebration comes with a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. After it was read, there was a stillness…
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 [of Independence] and the song [My Country ‘Tis of Thee] 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’m 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 the 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.
- Scott Allen
 Little Town on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, p. 76-77. Harper and Row, 14th printing, 1970.