Saturday, July 04, 2015

What does Independence Day mean to me?

Today is July 4th - Independence Day. Today, we as the United States of America celebrate our independence from Great Britain. But it's a day that, for me, has a deeper meaning and significance. 

First of all, I wish to be a Mr. Know-it-All, and correct the millions who say "It was the day the Declaration of Independence was signed."  Nice thought, but it was the day that the Continental Congress, made up of representatives of each of the 13 colonies, adopted the aforementioned Declaration. Now, we must also remember that it was not adopted unanimously: there were dissenters who felt that declaring independence from Great Britain was foolish, and that the war to gain independence from Great Britain - which had been going on for over a year - was doomed to fail (and the reports that Congress regularly received from George Washington in the field surely fed that belief). They didn't want to leave the protection of Great Britain, despite the way they were taxed unfairly (sound familiar) or had to house British troops in their homes (without compensation). They did not wish to make such a major split.

But when you think about it, there was another reason they were hesitant: the sheer MAGNITUDE of what those men were saying in that document, so eloquently written by Jefferson (and heavily eviscerated by Congress to remain as inoffensive to slave owners as possible - sound familiar?), not just calling for independence, but stating that man has rights endowed on him by the Creator - that's when you realize that it was truly a revolutionary document.

You must understand European history, and it's belief in the class system - of hierarchy. The belief in the masses that God favored kings and rulers, then principalities, then aristocracy, until finally you get to the peasants. If you wish to get a spin on this from the comic perspective of Monty Python, the British comedic troupe of the 60's, 70's and 80's, watch this clip from "Monty Python and The Holy Grail".  Europe controlled the then-known world. Great Britain and King George saw the American Colonies as distant people, and their land as a resource for British commerce. They were colonists, and, with some exceptions, rural people. They were subjects of The King, and therefore considered peasants or servants, to be used at the King's pleasure. 

But for men like Jefferson and Franklin, steeped in the Enlightened thinking coming from philosophers such as Locke, Montesquieu and Hume, man was equal, and government was derived from the powers of the People, not from a King or a human authoritative figure. When you read the opening paragraphs of the Declaration, its author, Jefferson, brought these ideas out front as the reason to declare our independence:

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.....

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......

This was a completely new and absolutely revolutionary idea. This stated that all men, regardless of birth or station, are equal. Therefore, it inferred that Kings do not possess unique and entitled rights to rule over the people, that The Creator (notice that Jefferson did not specify the Judeo-Christian "God", but a more natural god, not involved in the daily mechanics of man - which was also a new concept) endowed upon ALL men the ability and the RIGHT to self-govern. 

The men of that Continental Congress read this and, in some respects, were hesitant to sign, since this was not only an act of treason to a seated King, but to the whole concept of Monarchy and God appointed Kingship. This was treason of a high order, treason against accepted norms of society. But some men, like John Adams and other key members of Congress, realized that this was important, and that the people were important. The true idea of Liberty, a Republic, began to form here, and was complete when the Constitution was fleshed out nearly 20 years later. 

So, today - Independence Day - let us look carefully at the document that started it all - read it, dwell on it, think on it, and do so without a biased Fox, MSNBC or Bill Maher-skewed eye. Read it for what is was - and IS!

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