On This Independence Day
I long ago gave up and realized that people would post “thank the troops and thank the veterans” on Memorial Day which is set aside in honor of the war dead. I also am used to many photos of Arlington and other military cemeteries on Veteran’s Day when we are asked to honor those who served and are still with us, whether they are a CEO of a major firm, or your doctor, or mechanic, the farmer down the way, or the poor soul living on the streets.
Despite being used to the widespread ignorance of the meaning of our holidays my morning viewing of Facebook shows people don’t even understand Independence Day.
Independence Day is a celebration of the bold idea that the people on this continent should rule the country rather than the people who claimed the land under grant from the king. The idea that the people of this land should rule it as full citizens rather than being limited citizens at the mercy of a legislative body they had no voice in and the mercy of the investors seeking maximum profit from their faraway investment.
John Adams wrote to his wife on July 3, 1776, “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” Adams expected that July 2 would be the day we remembered because that was the date the vote was taken, the written document outlining what they did was ratified on July 4.
The Founding Fathers were not the first to support the idea that we are born with rights rather than “rights” being something the king or even an elected government could grant and remove at will, but they expressed it more eloquently than anyone before or since has done and more importantly they held to those beliefs when they became the rulers.
Somewhere out there someone (actually several someones) is writing a snarlish piece pointing out that the soaring language did not apply to the Native Americans, to women, or people of African descent and probably didn’t even mean it to apply to people who don’t own land. They were men of their time not demi-gods.
But they were amazing if for no other reason than they were part of a large committee that functioned to turn out a great document and start a great nation.
No, they weren’t perfect. Some were motivated by the belief they paid too high of taxes even though they paid less than those living in Great Britain and would pay much more once the nation was established. Some bristled over limitations on trade. Others the idea that any law created by their local legislature could be over-turned on a whim by the powers in London and by a parliament they had no voice in. Some did not like the English bar against expanding the settlement of the continent over the Appalachians. There were those worried that the Somerset case upholding prior decisions that the common law does not recognize slavery and if a slave set foot on the island he was free would expand to the colonies.
They were not united in their motivations, but they united in how to address their problems. Instead of refusing to cooperate until everyone agreed on the why, they addressed the what and the how. That elevates them above the crowd.
They were not perfect nor infallible. Their first attempt at creating a national government produced the Articles of Confederation, drafting started just a bit over a week after the Declaration and it was sent to the states in 1777 for ratification and wasn’t fully ratified until 1781. On March 4, 1789 the Articles were replaced by the Constitution because the Articles were that bad at creating an effective government.
Even the Constitution produced by many of the same people didn’t come out perfect with the need for the Bill of Rights quickly identified as a problem.
On July 4, 1776 they would likely have been surprised if a traveler from the future arrived and told them that within a few years not a single state would have an official church or collect taxes to fund a church.
What truly set these men apart was when the gained true power and had a chance to run afoul of what they had created, they chose to let their creation rule.
James Madison who advocated from judicial review during the Constitutional Convention was Secretary of State for Thomas Jefferson. Madison was named defendant in the first Supreme Court case establishing judicial review and declaring an act unconstitutional.
The greatest recognition of the character of our Founders came from King George III during the Revolution. He asked Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”
“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”
Washington returned to his farm twice. First having led the Army in the fight for independence he went home for six years. Called upon to serve as president he voluntarily chose to not stand for third term as president. Twice faced with the temptation to become king, he turned it away.
Celebrate our independence today, the road has never been straight or smooth. Rarely have we agreed on the whys but being united in wanting a better country than we had a century, or decade or year before produces great results, especially when we try to follow the lead of the Founders who did not win every fight, put aside their differences when it mattered, and had the strength to put aside their own power and glory for the sake of the nation. It is a wonderful ideal to model.
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
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 station 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.
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. 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.
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