There's A Reason It's Called the 'Declaration of Independence'
RANCHO SANTA FE, CALIF. – While small town parades, backyard barbecues and fireworks displays may be what many people associate with the 4th of July, Independence Day deserves far greater respect. Fifty-six men signed a single piece of parchment on this day in 1776 that contained 1,338 words that changed the history of the world for the better. That hallowed document claimed independence not only for a Nation but for a People.
Unfortunately, 242 years later, we are in danger of surrendering to the temptation of dependence.
Our Founding Fathers were quite different from us. Some people like to mock them for the hypocrisy of their ways (i.e., “They were just a bunch of rich, old, racist white guys who said ‘all men are created equal’ but owned slaves”). Try to ignore the irony that such criticism itself has ageist, racist overtones and displays a relatively benighted sense of historical context (given that the Founding Fathers were not all rich or old nor did they all own slaves or support such conduct).
These men had the courage to stand up to the greatest military power on the face of the Earth to establish even the possibility of the individual independence we now enjoy. The depth of their commitment can be seen in the final sentence of the Declaration of Independence: “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.”
In their case, the “pledge” of their “Lives” and “Fortunes” was not rhetorical. They were, in fact, risking their “Lives”and their “Fortunes” against enormous odds. Other than those who have served our Nation in armed combat, who else among us can even come close to making that claim?
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen States of America,” in effect, brought a 27-count indictment against King George, III. It specifically stated how the King had:
- Precluded the colonies from administering an effective form of self-governance;
- Interfered with the establishment of a fair judicial system;
- Acted independently to create or delay legislation that negatively impacted the colonies;
- Failed to protect the borders in a manner that left the colonies subject to invasions that could result in the loss of life and property;
- Obstructed justice;
- Manipulated the judiciary;
- Created a “Multitude of new Offices… to harrass (sic) our People;”
- “Kept… Standing Armies, without the consent of our Legislatures;”
- Quartered troops among the citizens and protected them from prosecution;
- Interfered with world trade;
- Imposed taxes without consent;
- Denied the benefit of “Trial by Jury;”
Note how many of these offenses were specifically addressed within the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. You may also draw your own contemporary conclusions as to how far our Nation has come since overthrowing the despotic leadership of King George, III. Just try not to be too cynical.
Beyond pronouncing that we were “Absolved of all Allegiance to the British Crown,” the Declaration of Independence also provided a framework within its Preamble for establishment of individual rights, the role of Government, and our responsibilities as citizens. To wit:
"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 (sic) their Safety and Happiness. 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. The History of the present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States…”
Yet today, we still struggle with these concepts. While we may ostensibly “hold these Truths to be self-evident,” our actions often belie our words.
Are “all Men created equal”? Yes, but they are most certainly not treated that way.
We continue to categorize people based upon their discernible physical differences and overt beliefs. Rather than diffusing the practice, our political Parties exploit it. They foster fear, envy, anger and greed among groups based on sex, race, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, etc. in an effort to create more controllable demographics that can be targeted and counted upon to deliver money and votes. King George would be proud!
Correspondingly, many Americans have abandoned their political independence in favor of identifying themselves as a member of one of the major Parties. In turn, they conform to their Party’s position on the vast majority of issues and vote relatively straight Party tickets without giving either much thought.
If you have been following this practice, take a moment to reflect upon how well that has been working. What great strides has your Party made toward its core agenda in the years you’ve been surrendering your vote to it? Try to avoid blaming the opposition for your Party’s lack of success. It’s no more accurate than when they blame their Party’s failure on your Party.
Moving on: Among the “unalienable Rights” that are mentioned in the Declaration, only one is qualified: “Happiness.” We are not guaranteed “Happiness.” We are only guaranteed the right to pursue it.
Those who would like the Government to guarantee at least some modicum of “Happiness” (or success) need to recognize that, in return for assuming that responsibility, the Government would have to be vested with the authority to define “Happiness.” Only then can Government guarantee it.
However, that would allow Government to exercise choices on our behalf like what we can own, what fuels we can use, what light bulbs we can buy, and even what type of health care insurance we must have.
If that were to happen, we’d be at risk of having a Government that might even extend our individual rights to entities that are little more than a legal fiction created to help organize society; entities like corporations and unions. Soon, those groups could be in a position to exploit their economic power to manipulate their members’ votes to unjustly influence the very foundation of our Nation. Thank goodness the Founding Fathers protected us by establishing our individual sovereignty.
Correspondingly, they succinctly described the role of Government in a way that had never been done before: “That to secure these (unalienable) Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.” Thus, our Government’s role is not to create, deny or limit Rights but rather to “secure”them.
More importantly, our Government’s “just Powers” exist only with our consent. We have the power. There is no King; there is no ruling elite. Otherwise, we might expect our President to act unilaterally when the mood strikes him, our Legislative Branch to exempt itself from the rules that apply to us, and our Judiciary to legislate from the bench based upon personal beliefs and biases rather than a strict construction of the law.
Again, thank goodness the Founding Fathers protected us by establishing our individual sovereignty.
The Preamble even explains what our responsibility is if those in office ever try to usurp our individual sovereignty:
“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 (sic) their Safety and Happiness.”
This responsibility need not be exercised impulsively nor achieved through force. In fact, the Founding Fathers went to great length to explain that “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.” The first and best step is to independently become well advised on the issues and candidates and affect change by casting an informed vote devoid of any Party influence.
The Founding Fathers instructed us that major reform is only required “…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.”
While it may be fashionable to advance ideas such as socialism and the redistribution of wealth or to throw around terms like treason and impeachment, in most instances it is only done for the political purposes of inflaming the emotions of a constituency (particularly during an election year). The Founding Fathers advised us to take a more tempered approach.
The Government’s role is clearly limited by that other document, the Constitution. Under Article I, Section 8, its responsibility is to “provide for the common Defence (sic) and general welfare of the United States” beyond its fundamental responsibility to secure our Rights (as suggested by the Declaration). We will not fall prey to the temptation of becoming dependent upon the Government to solve our problems. Otherwise, we might expect to see an expansion of both Government and spending; actions taken to attract the favor of special interest groups as opposed to serve the best interests of the general population of the United States.
The symptoms of such a systemic failure would be obvious: A push for higher taxes to cover increased cost and rising debt; a growing gap between the rich and the poor with an ever-shrinking middle class; increased levels of poverty, illiteracy and the need for public assistance; and even a radical increase in the cost of running for public office as the money involved would create a political environment more akin to an auction than an election.
Luckily, the Founding Fathers graced us with independence, and we would be beyond foolish to relinquish it.
- We have the independence to ignore the self-serving rants of others and instead respect and celebrate each other’s similarities and differences.
- We have the independence to pursue our own definition of “Happiness” and embrace the concept of a meritocracy over mediocrity. If this approach ever fails, we will no longer be faced with a problem of immigration because our standard of living and the potential that surrounds it will no longer distinguish us from the rest of the world.
- We have the independence to exercise our best judgment when it comes to our representation as opposed to being forced to capitulate to choosing between “the lesser of two evils.”
- And we have the independence to reform Government (or those within it) if “repeated Injuries and Usurpations” create “the Necessity… to alter their… Systems of Government.”
In the meantime, enjoy the parade, eat a hot dog, and cheer for the fireworks. A bunch of rich, old, white guys did the heavy lifting in the past and never even expected a “Thank you.” Have a Happy Independence Day this Fourth of July.
Editor's Note: This article originally published on Communities Digital News on July 4, 2014, and has been republished with permission from the author.