Before NBC made Laura Ingalls a fictional 1970s teenager in a calico costume, she was a very real girl in a very non-fictional 1870s world. When she was 14 years old she attended an Independence Celebration in a small Dakota town. This was a time when America valued liberty and knew what it cost.
On that afternoon, everyone stood reverently together as the Declaration of Independence was read aloud, and then everyone sang My Country Tis of Thee. Laura recalls the day in third person. 1
“Laura and Carrie,” she wrote, “knew the Declaration by heart, of course, but it gave them a solemn, glorious feeling to hear the words. They took hold of hands and stood listening in the solemnly listening crowd. The Stars and Stripes were fluttering bright against the thin, clear blue overhead, and their minds were saying the words before their ears heard them.”
Later, “the crowd was scattering away then, but Laura stood stock still. Suddenly she had a completely new thought. The Declaration and the song 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 am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do. I will have to make myself be good.”
Thus Laura Ingalls, at age 14, figured out a profound truth of advanced statesmanship: all governance begins with self government, and governing authorities ought not interfere with individuals’ rights to obey God. This is what was so obvious to the Americans of the 1770s. This blunt truth produced the most orderly counter-revolution of history. America declared independence from their beloved England because nations must honor a higher sovereign than an earthly monarch. Kings cannot be bullies or tyrants. The English had known this since before the days of King Alfred in the 9th century. In the 15th century, one law book of Henry VII stated, “Any law is or of right ought to be according to the law of God.” The most authoritative law book at the time of the Declaration, Blackstone's Commentaries, said, “No enactment of man can be considered law unless it conforms to the law of God.” 2
In 1776, a tyrannical King George III was defiantly breaking with 900 years of English judicial wisdom by “injuring and usurping” the rights and liberties of the Colonists. At the signing of the Declaration, Sam Adams summarized the issue the signers were willing to die for. "We have this day,” he said, “restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come." 3
Laura lived to be 90. Over the course those years, God’s kingdom didn’t advance very far in America’s conservative middle-west. Laura watched America drift far away from reverence, gratitude and the most basic historical literacy. America willfully forgot all those centuries of hard lessons learned by the English about tyranny and freedom. Laura watched the rise of the “God is dead” theology and the disintegration of Christian ethics in an escalating conflict that would be known as “The Culture War.”
Fifteen years ago, Pat Buchanan challenged America by restating this issue bluntly. “Ultimately,” he wrote, “our culture war is about one question: Is God dead, or is God king? For centuries, this issue has been crucial. If God is dead, as Nietzsche wrote, everything is permissible, and eventually, one will logically reach the conclusion of Paris’ student radicals of 1968: The only thing that is forbidden is to forbid.
“But if God is king, men have a duty to try, as best they can, to conform their lives to his will and shape society in accordance with his law. Defection and indifferentism are not options open to us.” 4
Our founders noted in the Declaration what happens when men are indifferent to injustices suffered under tyranny. “All experience hath shewn,” they declared, “that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
And I'm afraid this is what Americans will continue to do, until, suddenly, they arrive at a completely new thought, like the contemplative Laura Ingalls.