The July 4 national independence holiday has just passed and I hope you were able to observe it in a meaningful way. We had about 20 guests at our home and attended the wonderful Boulevard Oaks July 4 neighborhood celebration that we have done for a decade. Many thanks to our kind neighbors for their efforts.
Many in our nation report being conflicted about their feelings during this holiday given the deep level of civil and political strife now present in daily life. I thought for this newsletter it therefore made sense to consult the Declaration of Independence, the document upon which the July 4 holiday is founded, to see what wisdom it can offer.
The Declaration does not receive the attention that the Constitution, written 13 years after, does. It was essentially a declaration of disunion by disgruntled colonists against England and its King, rather than a declaration of union between colonists. While it begins with the lofty ideals that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – the document soon turns to a very long (many would say boring) list of grievances against the King, the primary object of their rebellion. These detailed grievances are often ignored in favor of the opening platitudes and closing recitals. However, I believe, especially now, that they deserve a little more attention. Here are some of the notable grievances:
He (the King) has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriates of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation.
[He has cut] our Trade with all parts of the world.
[He has deprived] us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury.
[He has transported] us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses.
[He has taken away] our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers (the merciless Indian Savages)
In many ways, the Constitution became the answer to the grievances listed in the Declaration, a subsequent document designed to prevent and avoid the abuses enumerated in the former. Many in the country are now content to believe that the Constitution will accomplish this during this challenging time; others are not so sure. Regardless, it is also instructive to turn to the last part of the Declaration in which the colonists explain to their “British brethren” that they, the colonists, have made repeated attempts to appeal to their, the British, sense of fairness, but those attempts fell on deaf ears:
We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature (the British Parliament) to extend 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.
Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration’s author, and the other signatories, conclude:
They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.
The final concluding declaratives of the Declaration are the chosen remedies to the colonists’ grievances and the perceived silence of their “brethren” to them:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America...solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are... Free and Independent States, that they are absolved of all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and that State of Great Britain, is...totally dissolved.”
At the time of this July 4, it would be well and good if all Americans of all political stripes in all places were to re-read the Declaration of Independence and understand that what ultimately drove the colonists in this country to demand a complete, total, and irrevocable divorce was the refusal of the British population’s legislative body, its Parliament, to rein in a monarch perceived as lawless.
Rather than choosing Interdependence, American colonists chose Independence from Britain. Hopefully, some how, some way, and soon Americans will wake up and choose the former with each other.