Being Independence Day and all, with people getting excited about fireworks and a day off work, I was hoping to take a step back and look at the whole reason for this day. In this blog post I analyze the declaration of independence, put it in slightly simpler terms, and look at it in our current context. On this day in 1776 a British colony decided it wanted to manage its own affairs. Our founding fathers were brave enough to stand up to the greatest military power on the planet and demand freedom. They boldly asserted:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
In simpler words: “Men form governments to ensure the continuation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for each and all. When a government no longer serves these needs, but becomes a threat to it, people have the right to change or destroy that government.”
“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.”
In simpler words: “Many times it is better to suffer a bit than to risk destroying a system of government. However, when a long series of blows to the well being of the governed are made by the governing, the governed not only have a right, but a duty to throw down that government and establish a new one, for the sake of themselves and future generations.”
They go onto assert that the King of Britain, through his actions, have brought the colonies to such a point in which they must throw off his Tyranny. They claim as grievances hat the king has meddled in nearly every facet of their lives in ways which are displeasing to them:
- Lack of justice in the legal system
- Interference in commerce
- Interference in allowing people to govern themselves
- Taxation without consent
- Searches and seizures, quartering of troops
You can read the full list at (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html).
They continue in showing that they are not acting rashly, and have continued to express concern and request redress to every affront:
“Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.”
“We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”
Because these requests had been ignored, laughed at, or responded to with violence, the United States of America is declaring its freedom:
“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
The takeaway here is that under any government, you should do your best to work within the system to change the system. You should not be silent when you are wronged. You must act peaceably and work to institute positive change. There comes a point, however, when this course of action is no longer available. The only course of action left is rebellion – as the founders put it – abolishing the current government and establishing a new one. As Thomas Jefferson once stated, “The tree of liberty must from time to time be renewed with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” We must always keep in mind that if we fail to hold onto our rights, if our government reaches a state of corruption past reconciliation, the only dutiful choice is revolt. This is why we must in our daily lives be vigilant to safeguard our nation’s founding principles in (sometimes) seemingly insignificant ways (voting, discussing, sending letters to senators, protesting). Those daily practices delay the time until real sacrifice is required to secure a future for our offspring.
I can think of many things our distant government (headquartered in far away Washington DC) now does which with we should take issue:
- Unauthorized foreign wars. There has been no formal declaration of war – being by congress, and thus of representatives of the people – since WW2, yet in over 100 minor and major conflicts since US troops have died and US taxpayer dollars have been spent. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_war_by_the_United_States).
- Legalized bribery. The lobbying “industry” are essentially professional bribers. They give gifts and and monies to government agents (congress, executive, judicial) in exchange for supporting or opposing legislation. In some cases, companies (such as big pharma, big agriculture, war industrial, prison industrial) will author entire pieces of legislation and pay a politician to sign their name to it and sponsor it in congress. The fact that this has been institutionalized in our country is sad and scary (see http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/22/in_landmark_campaign_finance_ruling_supreme).
- Government spying and censorship. The *first* item in the bill of rights – what the founders considered the *most* important – was freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly. Now, we have hate crime legislation, making certain words illegal. We have protestors across the country being arrested and brutalized by police for their actions. We allow internet companies and large corporations to work in collusion with our government to censor the content we’re allowed to see in searches.
- Gun controls. Some cities have banned handguns and both the state and federal government put increasing controls on gun possession allowances, through increasingly complex licensing requirements, taxes, and outright bans for certain classes of firearms. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Assault_Weapons_Ban)
- Taxation and mandate. If we can be forced to buy health insurance, can we not be forced to buy general motors vehicles? We argue about income taxation, but we don’t stop to think about the fact that we are taxed on nearly everything: food, cell phones, internet usage, gasoline, healthcare, etc. etc.
- Educational interference. Who can argue the programs like no child left behind have had a positive impact? Who can argue that 4 decades of increasing cost and bureaucracy have positively impacted education? Through increased meddling and through student aid programs which allow institutions to continue to increase their costs on the backs of taxpayers, we have crippled our educational system.
Those are just some of the things I can think of that we could all work on to improve. I don’t think we’re yet at the point the founding fathers were when they chose to declare independence from the King, but if we don’t all get to work, that day will be here sooner than we might hope.