Independence Day is here and with it comes all the hoopla, flag-waving, barbeques and fireworks that have come to symbolize our Fourth of July holiday. But this time around—and especially at this critical juncture in our nation’s history—it would do us all good to remember the real meaning, the historic events and the underlying political philosophies that sparked America’s bloody break with its colonial masters of the British Empire two centuries ago.
These days, even mentioning starting a revolution against a sitting government is probably enough reason to have your phone tapped, your e-mails intercepted and the minutia of your life inspected in great detail by some three-letter federal agency like the CIA, FBI or the conglomeration of shadowy operatives that huddle under the umbrella of Homeland Security. These activities, once abhorred by Americans as a violation of their constitutional right of privacy, have become so commonplace that entire generations of young people now take it for granted that the government can and will snoop wherever and whenever it wants.
But back in the days of the original 13 states, revolution wasn’t just talked about, it was readily embraced by what were then called patriots: the Boston Tea Party, the midnight ride of Paul Revere, the unerring accuracy of Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys as they picked off the British Red Coats while hiding behind trees and rocks. It was the American Revolutionary War and like most revolutions, those in power had no intention of giving it up without a fight. Meanwhile, the oppressed colonials, waving their “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, had every intention of doing what was necessary, even unto their own deaths, to win their struggle for freedom and self-determination.
There were, of course, those who did not think taking on the British Empire was all that great an idea. Then, as now, the comfortable had a tough time identifying with the afflicted. Then, as now, disrupting commerce for such illusory and ephemeral goals as liberty and justice for all was simply not tolerated.
Luckily for us, the naysayers to the revolution didn’t carry the day—otherwise we’d be singing “God Save the Queen” instead of the “Star Spangled Banner” today. And we wouldn’t have the Declaration of Independence, crafted by those who had lived under the oppression of the Empire and who had no intention of allowing future generations to suffer those same hardships under any form of government, including their own.
Read again the words of those early patriots, in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence penned by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, and consider what they mean in relation to our current state of affairs:
We hold these truths to 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 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. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future security.
These words came from the hearts of those who had not only suffered to gain their independence, but who had just established their own government and wanted to ensure that the citizens of the future would know “it is their right, it is their duty” to “throw off” and “abolish” any government which “becomes destructive of these ends.”
And what was it about King George the colonials found so distressing? Well, here are their words—and the parallels to today will send a chill down your spine.
“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices.” Sounds like Bush’s political vetting of judicial hires.
“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.” Sounds like Homeland Security.
“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.” Sounds like covert black ops and the unverifiable black budgets that fund them.
“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws.” Sounds like warrantless spying and incarceration without due process.
“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury.” Sounds like ignoring habeas corpus.
“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses.” Sounds like Guantanamo.
Given the eerie comparisons to our current government and the way it has operated for the last eight years, if we were to take the sage advice of our forefathers, we would find it our “right and duty” to “throw off” the government under which we now live. That, however, seems unlikely to happen since even talking about it may well get you transported “beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses.”
On this Independence Day, Montanans and all Americans should reflect on the admonitions of the Founders and ponder the future of our once-great nation. It’s true that we have strayed far and forgotten much, but it’s not too late to recommit ourselves and our nation to the lofty principles of liberty and justice for all.