While July Fourth has special meaning for Americans, our Independence Day celebrates the concept of the sovereign individual, a world view and an ideal that extends far beyond our borders.
For centuries, man was ruled by autocrats and despots who owned everything and everyone, controlled all property, and had the authority to dictate the course of all events in their realm. Common man eked out his sparse existence with a constant anxiety about his uncertain future. No part of his day to day life was secure or safe from the whims of the monarch who controlled his fate.
The Declaration of Independence, by far the most important of our founding documents, ousted the ruling elite from their positions of power and destroyed the pedestals that supported their thrones. This document declares the sovereignty of the individual, outlines the Natural Law Rights belonging to each of us by dint of our birth, summarizes the grievances against the British crown, justifies separation from the mother country, and sets out the proper place for government as the servant of the people.
It is generally acknowledged that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence between June 11 and June 28, 1776, after having been appointed by the Second Continental Congress to write a first draft for its consideration. The principle of individual liberty as an ideal was a hot topic on the lips and the minds of many patriots in the colonies, instigated by the writings and speeches of John Locke, Thomas Paine, John Adams, and others who sought freedom from the tyranny of the British Parliament and its ruling monarch.
The Declaration of Independence is considered to contain five distinct parts:
- the introduction
- the preamble
- the indictment of King George
- the denunciation of the British people
- the conclusion
In reading those immortal words, we can examine and understand their meaning and the intent of our founders.
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.
What the colonists proposed to do was in no way unprecedented. The history of mankind is filled with examples in which factions have been forced by circumstances, positive or negative, to break away from their original group and form a new entity with different alliances. The new entity is entitled by the laws of nature and by God to seek and be granted a status equal to that of the group from which they separated. As a sign of respect for their new peers, Jefferson felt it necessary to outline the reasons and justification for the disruptive action.
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.
The self-evident truths that Jefferson refers to are the Natural Law Rights that belong to each of us by having been “created” by our Creator, an acknowledgement of the existence of a supreme God, the creator of all. It was not necessary to list every Natural Law Right, as they were commonly spoken of and were evident to most citizens of that time.
Natural Law Rights are based on the private property rights of the sovereign individual. To our founders, the totality of a person’s property was his land and home, his possessions, the work of his hands, the ideas of his brain, and his life itself. The Declaration of Independence and our Constitution task government with securing and defending those sacred rights.
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.
Herein lies the basic philosophy of our Constitution. Citizens voluntarily band together and give limited power to a governmental entity that is allowed to perform only those specific designated actions that are most efficiently performed with a single voice for the benefit of all. Government does not have inherent power, only that which is voluntarily given to it by free sovereign individuals in their sovereign states. Since the “gift of power” is given by self-determination not by compulsion, that consent may be withdrawn for cause and “re-gifted” to a different entity that will protect and secure the natural law rights of the citizens.
We have the right to learn from our mistakes and correct them by improving the conditions under which we live and restructuring the rules by which we are voluntarily governed.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, 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.
The colonists recognized that their separation from Britain would be painful and cause suffering on both sides from military actions and the financial consequences of conflict. In setting up the indictment of King George, they acknowledged that it would be easier for most citizens to maintain the status quo which, although unacceptable to many, was the lesser of the two evils for others. In the final analysis, however, there comes a breaking point, a straw the breaks the camel’s back so to speak, beyond which further acquiescence to despotism and tyranny is intolerable.
Having stated colonies’ justifications for seeking independence and proposed a philosophy of governance that was the antithesis of the tyranny of the King George, Jefferson enumerated 27 specific grievances, the indictment of the King. The British monarch had ruled in a way that we know is standard operating procedure for tyrants, namely, controlling all aspects of his subjects’ lives and vigorously punishing them for real or imagined disobedience.
Following are some of the grievances.
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.
The colonists requested certain laws be enacted to help with the governmental organization of the colonies, the acceptance of immigrants (mostly from Germany) needed to expand westward, and the integration of Indian nations into the economy. Although British governors had agreed to many of these reforms, the King refused to allow these laws to be passed until he approved them. Then he simply ignored the colonists’ requests.
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.
The King announced that he planned to disband the representative legislature in Massachusetts and replace it with a governing council appointed by and run by the King himself as he had already done in Quebec. Protests by the citizens of Massachusetts were ignored.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
To punish the citizens of Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party, the King moved the seat of the colony’s legislature to Salem from Boston where all the records were kept. In an age in which travel was by horse and long distance communication did not exist, this move posed a hardship that was intolerable for the legislators.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
The King dissolved elected legislatures of several colonies, among them Massachusetts, Virginia, and North Carolina, for passing laws that contradicted the edicts and taxes imposed by the King.
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.
The King removed judiciary powers from the colonies and began paying judges’ salaries himself directly, creating a judiciary dependent on King George for their livelihood. Colonists were often denied a jury trial and decisions were based on the desires of the King rather than the rule of law.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
This was the beginning of runaway government bureaucracy. The King placed multiple tax collectors and customs agents in all the ports to enforce the collection of what the colonists considered oppressive taxation on the necessities of life.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.
Not only did King George keep a standing army in the colonies without consent of the legislatures, he ordered that the colonists be subject to the authority of the British generals. He also placed 10,000 British soldiers in the American seaports including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent
This is perhaps the most famous and most often cited grievance of all, that is, “taxation without representation”.
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury.
The British established as system of Admiralty Courts with judges paid by the King. Instead of having a jury trial, which was considered the right of British citizens, colonists were tried by a single judge whose allegiance was bound to King George.
The list of grievances outlines a course of action by the British King no different than that taken by countless tyrants before and after. It is all about control. Individual freedom is inversely proportional to the size and power of government. In this list of grievances, it is not difficult to see the parallels with our current times, dealing with our contemporary version of a monarchy, ruled by arrogant elitists like King George, who desire to eliminate the Natural Law Rights of the sovereign individual in order to control the entire world.
The conclusion of the Declaration is definitive and clear:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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 finally, fully understanding the personal risk, the signers of the Declaration of Independence take a mutual pledge to bind themselves to each other and to the colonists they represent:
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.
Without a pledge, any declaration has not meaning or teeth. The signers knew that war with Great Britain was now inevitable and they were, themselves, in great danger. Nevertheless, relying on the “protection of divine Providence,” they signed what was to become one of our most cherished and meaningful founding documents, the Declaration of Independence.
As it was with our founders, it is gut-check time for each of us. The battle lines have been drawn, and a deep chasm of disagreement divides our nation. We stand on one side – Guardians of the Constitution – with the firm knowledge that the rule of law prescribed by the framers of that document is the only real hope to remain free sovereign citizens of a great nation.
On the other side of the canyon stands our opponents. They are the arrogant elitists of the world, the oligarchs, the hypocrites, who believe they alone have the wisdom to rule planet Earth according to their tyrannical socialist world view. They know what is best for all of us and are supported by followers of their own creation, who have been indoctrinated in government schools and have been taught that everything they desire will be free in the promised collectivist utopia.
Recognize that this is but another cycle of history in which mankind’s weaknesses cannot be overcome even when the adverse results are proven and known to be inevitable.
As we stand at the ready, comrades in arms, awaiting another “shot heard round the world,” each of us must ask ourselves the one question that defines courage and resolve on the brink of historical decision. What are you willing to sacrifice for freedom?