Independence Day Thoughts

On the Declaration of Independence

ON THE DECLARATION - People like to celebrate this day because it's associated with the Declaration of Independence, but most folks don't recognize what the Declaration actually was or take the time to understand its purpose. I offer this to shore those understandings up, and because I like to renew my ability to remember it by writing it down and sharing it. 

The rebelling colonies knew that they had to make the case for independence. The world associated the colonies as belonging to England; many of the colonies came to existence based on treaties and contracts between the founders of the various colonies and various kings of England. For example, George Calvert received a charter from King Charles I in 1632 and William Penn was given a charter from King Charles II in 1681. 

The Declaration of Independence is written to read as an international announcement that King George III had breached the contracts between the colonies and the king by doing (or failing to do) certain things. That's WHY there is a list of things that the king had failed to do, such as making judges dependent on doing the king's will, erected new offices designed to harass, cutting off trade, and depriving colonists of trial by jury. 

The list of complaints was not created out of nowhere, but based on actual events, and these actions resulted in colonial resentment and a slow recognition that the relationship could not go on as it was. The Declaration is a lawsuit asking the entire world to recognize the colonies as independent of England. The international world was familiar with such statements; in 1320 the Scots declared independence in the Declaration of Arbroath and William III of England issued the Declaration of Reasons to seek legitimacy of his overthrow of James II in 1688. There are many such declarations issued by some group of people or authority which has sought some recognition of some sort, with varying degrees of success. (In modern lawsuits, people often seek declarations that establish a party's obligations.)

To me, the most interesting part of the Declaration is the part that comes before the list of complaints that is referred to as the preamble, which when paraphrased says, "Yeah, this is a big deal, and we know we have to justify this rebellion, because people don't do this casually and usually it is better to just live with the occasional sleight than to take up arms."

We should also recognize the rejected arguments of the British, who used many of the mercantilist arguments you hear today about how we need to pay the British for protection against the natives. Even the Stamp Act was little more than a small sales tax which the Brits justified by saying that the colonists needed to pay for the protection provided to them during the French and Indian War. 

In fact, many of the arguments you hear today mirror those of yesteryear - the Brits would ask, "Why does any colonist need a cannon, because we Redcoats are keeping the peace?" which sounds a lot like the "Why does anyone need an AR-15 when you can call the police?" (This conversation resulted in laws preventing colonial cannon-keeping, and culminated in the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and really got the Revolutionary War going.)

Of course, our federal government is way over the top on many of the same overreaches of which the British were guilty, but today we often fail to see it that way, and even welcome the arguments made by various office-holders who say we need to welcome small sales and property tax increases to benefit well-connected big businesses, always to the detriment of the average person. 

As Reagan observed, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same." No kidding. 

It's our generation's turn at bat, so let's remember how we got here more than 200 years ago, and reject collectivist reasoning that says, "Higher taxes and more debt to benefit others are good for YOU." Let's work to restrict government to its proper size and scope, restore lost liberties such as the power to contract and equal treatment under the law. 

We have work to do, and plenty of it, and we have the advantage of forefathers who have done all the hard part - all we have to do is convince our neighbors to vote the right way and make an occasional phone call to hubris-filled office-holders who misunderstand the limits of their wisdom. Easy peasy, or at least it should be.

I leave you this day with the words of Justice Louis Brandeis: “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.”