My Door County Advocate column for July 2, 2014:
It was Patrick O’Donahue, that fiercely proud American who was also fiercely proud of his Irish heritage, who first drilled into me the name of the holiday we celebrate this Friday.
“The Fourth of July is just a date,” said Pat, the locquacious fellow who wrote so well for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. “This is Independence Day.”
Actually, the Continental Congress of representatives from the 13 British colonies in America voted today – July 2, 1776 – to declare their independence from the British empire as free and independent states. Having approved the idea, two days later they approved the formal resolution of our intentions.
“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Staton to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.”
According to the National Archives, Thomas Jefferson began writing the Declaration of Independence and turned it over to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams for editing. Once they returned their edits, Jefferson polished the document into its final form, including the words that state the philosophy that is said to have guided this nation of states for the ensuing 238 years:
“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.”
With the distance afforded by nearly 12 score of years, it is harder to imagine how revolutionary those words were, although every day brings new efforts to muffle their impact and their meaning.
Imagine: A group of British subjects declaring that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness belong to us from the moment we were each created, not bestowed upon us by some monarch or a supposedly benevolent government.
Imagine: A huffy group of citizens declaring, “We did not consent to this,” as if citizens had any say in how the government rules its people.
Imagine: Anyone suggesting that when the government abuses rather than protects the rights and powers of the people, then the people have a right to make changes or even abolish the government itself.
People have a high tolerance for tyranny – we just want to be left alone to go our way for the most part, so we will take a great deal of abuse before we rise to the level of revolution.
As you read through the list of complaints that the American revolutionaries set forth, it’s clear that King George III and the British Empire did not treat the subjects of the 13 colonies very well at all. One can hardly blame them – and one must celebrate their spirit this time of year, every year – for standing up to the abuse and declaring:
“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.”