Two hundred and thirty-three years ago, the men of the Second Continental Congress made a bold gesture as they sought to uncleave themselves from their ties with Great Britain. A gesture intended to convey that they were serious about the war that was already raging on the American Continent. A gesture intended to tell the world, and perhaps garner the support of other countries, that the American Colonies could not and would not continue to live under the yolk of a tyrannical King and Parliament.
A gesture that could cost them all, and indeed did cost some, their lives and their properties.
The Declaration of Independence was written primarily to formalize the decision to separate the colonies from British rule. It also sought to communicate the importance of concepts of liberty that were lacking in the current arrangement with the Britsh Monarchy. Subjected to Britain’s control though they were, equal to other British Subjects living in the homeland they were not. Even in attempts to seek the kind of autonomy eventually considered standard within the British Empire were at that time brushed aside… self-government was not in the best interest of Britain at that time.
Many know that the original Jeffersonian draft of the Declaration included a statement that could not be agreed upon by the 13 “free and independent states”… that is, regarding slavery. Incredible that the words “…all men are created equal…” would remain in a document that could not hold the words:
“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivatng [sic] and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of INFIDEL powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.” (Washington State University Web Site: Original Draft of The Declaration of Independence)
But these and more words were removed by a Congress that was unwilling to do the right thing, as it would have an impact on the economy of some southern states.
So our beginnings were not perfect. We moved forward tolerating one form of tyranny so that we could at least extricate ourselves from another.
Sad, though, that the British Empire managed to eliminate this “opprobrium” (yes, I had to look it up… it means “something that is a disgrace”) many years before the this new and freer nation could. And very nearly cost us our independence and existance in doing so.
And true, that in dislodging ourselves of this opprobrium, we managed to substantively alter the power of the federal government in such a way as to make the states now more subservient to the federal branches. This was probably not bad on the face of it, but the ideal of the soveriegnty of the states was, by necessity, reigned in. The benefit has been a very stable national existence, a growing consistency of liberty (at least, on paper), and a greater sense of national unity.
But the trauma of economic concerns, once again, stirs the federal government (and some state governments) to consider, nay act upon, ideas that will doubtless impinge our liberties at some point. Already, the highly successful in business are suddenly targets for all kinds of collectivist scrutiny. Suddenly, it is the public at large, the media and the government who believe they should decide upon and dictate the actions and values of private business, beyond the appropriate levels of regulatory controls that help ensure that integrity in business dealings is not abandoned. We continue to see laws and rumors of laws that would squelch our right to protect our lives and property. And as the government takes ownership of and props up businesses that should by rights be bankrupt, the government instead bankrupts us and our children.
At least it is within the bounds of representative government (help, my tongue is stuck in my cheek!).
But seriously, we are fortunate to be operating under the umbrella of the US Constitution. That could change, but I would never want that to be so. We must constantly be on guard to protect the Constitution and the country it serves, we must watch for those that would diminish the integrity of that document, and ensure that our leaders continue to abide by its intent. And within those bounds, we must work feverishly to ensure that our national existence remains secure and that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” remain the measure of our success as a nation.
The Declaration of Independence is meant for us as much as those that carved it out in 1776. We must never allow ourselves to be constrained by tyranny. We must continue to fight for our liberties and freedom for all Americans!