Some of you, I know, only check this blog at work. So here's wishing you a happy Fourth of July.
One thing I like to do on July Fourth is read the Declaration of Independence. Out loud. To a crowd. Preferably around a barbecue.
It is a stirring document. It was meant to be. I'm sure the moment it was signed, thousands of copies were run off at Ben Franklin's printing press and rushed to all the towns of North America. And over the next week or so, there would have been gatherings all across the 13 colonies -- and probably in Upper and Lower Canada too -- where someone stood up and read these words:
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.
And then they would have talked it over. And argued it over. And dissected it. And debated it. Because the whole reason for the Declaration of Independence was that in the thirteen colonies, it mattered what the people thought. They would either have to take arms to support the document. Or relinquish the rights it was demanding.
It is a serious document. It must have scared a lot of people, because it was asking a lot of everybody. After the Declaration, it became very hard to be a neutral. You were either a Loyalist or a Patriot.
I was going to quote less, but it's hard not to simply quote the whole thing. What would you cut?
It is a document both rash and wise.
Rash, because at the time you would have been hard pressed to find a European outside of a university who agreed that all men are created equal. An Iroquois, sure. The Native Americans couldn't understand why some settlers were born "gentlemen" and others weren't. But a European? All men were born to their appointed station in life. While one could change one's station, it was a good thing if everyone stayed where they belonged. And yet the signers called it "self-evident" that all men deserve the same shot at the good life.
But wise, because it essentially says, hey, we're not going off half-cocked here. When you blow up your government, you better have a good reason. And we've got reasons -- "abuses and usurpations." We've been pushed past the limits of our endurance. And we owe the world an explanation for what we're doing.
I can't read through the whole document without choking up. Or getting angry at King George and his Parliament:
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power...
For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury ...
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences...
It's worth remembering, on Independence Day, just what the United States of America meant as an idea; and what it is supposed to mean now. They weren't just declaring independence from George III, they were declaring independence from a whole tradition of one-man rule, from class divisions and from arbitrary justice.
They were also declaring independence for
For what? And did they succeed?
Worth pondering as you sip your margaritas and grill up your burgers over the long weekend.
Y'all have fun now, hear?