Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day 2008 USA: The Declaration of Independence

From the Fresh & Easy Buzz Editor's Desk

"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." - Declaration of Independence.

A mere 232 years ago, a group of men primarily of English ancestry who had ventured years before to a new land called America to create new lives, met and decided to declare America's independence from Great Britain's then tyrant-King.

Among the 56 founding fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence (they had their faults, which is why there wasn't one founding mother), were 70-year old Benjamin Franklin, the oldest of the 56 signatories, and Edward Rutlidge, the youngest of the founding fathers at only 26. Two future United States Presidents, John Adams (the second President) and Thomas Jefferson (the third President of the United States) signed it as well.

The leading and largest signature on the founding document is that of John Hancock, who was the President of the Continental Congress. Mr. Hancock would forever be immortalized in America by the popular saying used to this day: Put your 'John Hancock' (signature) right here. [You can view and read a complete list, including brief biographies, of the 56 founding fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence here.]

Thomas Jefferson, who became the third President of the United States following the terms of George Washington and John Adams, was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. The polymath Benjamin Franklin had a strong hand in shaping and editing the document, as he did in nearly everything involving politics, government, commerce and science during his adult life in America.

In June of 1776, Thomas Jefferson was part of a Virginia delegation that planned to ask the Second Continental Congress to sever its ties from Great Britain. While that historic body was meeting, Jefferson was assigned to a committee that was asked to write a declaration which enumerated the causes that led to that severance.

Finding his lodging in the heart of the city uncomfortable, he removed to the rooms of Jacob Graff. Graff was a well-known bricklayer who had built his house on the outskirts of town but a year before Jefferson arrived. It's probable that Jefferson had to pay a little extra for the rooms as they came furnished. The Graffs lived in the house while Jefferson undertook his task.

Situated on the outskirts of town, surrounded by fields and a stable across the street, the house provided Jefferson with the space and distance from the city he needed for his task. Working from the Virginia Constitution as well as an extensive knowledge of political theory Jefferson wrote the document in under three weeks.

The so called Committee of five--John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston, along with Thomas Jefferson--then edited Jefferson's work. However, the document's primary theorist as well as writer is Thomas Jefferson.

[You can read a personal account written by Thomas Jefferson of the times leading up to his drafting the Declaration of Independence, in this excerpt from his autobiography. His story, in his own words.]

Unlike many documents, the Declaration of Independence is as fresh and relevant in today's world as it was 232 years ago, when fed up with the tyranny of a Monarch the founding fathers declared to Great Britain, there fellow Americans, and the world, their aim to be free and independent of the rule of others.

That freedom would only come of course by the shedding of blood in war. But is was a just war of the most precious kind; a war for freedom, liberty and the right to pursue happiness free from the rule of Kings and Prince's from foreign lands.

Democracy, which is the political concept and form of government (be it a more direct form of democracy or a republican form as is the case in the U.S.) at the heart of the Declaration, is not a static thing.

Rather, it's a pursuit, just as happiness is a pursuit. Many Americans have forgotten, or chosen to ignore, this fact since around the end of the Vietnam War. Since the 1970's, fewer and fewer Americans have exercised their right to vote, resulting in national elections in which a 50% voter turnout is considered good.

However, in this election year 2008, there's a new breeze blowing throughout America--from coastal California and freezing Alaska, to the corn fields of Iowa and Indiana, and in the big cities like Chicago and New York, as well as in small towns throughout the land.

That breeze is blowing change and a desire for more liberty and independence, something the founding fathers would be pleased to observe; and perhaps they are. The breeze is particularly blowing across the brows of America's young people; its future.

Both candidates for President of the United States are cut from a very different cloth than the majority of candidates for the nation's highest office have been in modern times. (And, of course, both are politicians, and good ones at that. However, being a good politician and good leader aren't mutually exclusive as the cynics will have you believe.)

Democratic party presumptive nominee Barack Obama, the 46-year old U.S. Senator, Harvard Law School graduate, and son of a white mother from Kansas and black African father from Kenya, is the first black man set to be nominated by his political party for candidate for U.S. President in American history.

Senator Obama defeated his worthy Democratic party challengers with a message of hope, change and a promise of a practical post-partisan politics; the forging of a new consensus between Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Regardless if you agree or disagree with Mr. Obama's politics, he's original, and although a good politician, is far more than that.

That Barack Obama--who's father left he and his mother right after he was born and therefore was raised by a single mother with the help of his grandparents in conditions in which his mother often had to turn to the government for food stamp assistance in order to feed her child--has risen to soon become his political party's candidate for President of the Unites States is the story of America the founding fathers scripted by drafting the Declaration of Independence 232 years ago. From adversity to success; the Barack Obama story is America's story.

Republican candidate for President John McCain has a different but equally compelling story. As an aviator serving his country during the Vietnam war, Senator McCain was shot down, captured by the North Vietnamese, and held for years as a prisoner of war, frequently undergoing days and days of constant physical and mental torture.

When told he could go free by the North Vietnamese holding him, who found out Mr. McCain's father was a high ranking military man, Senator McCain declined, telling his captors he would leave when the rest of his fellow soldiers and prisoners also were free to go. Leave no man behind.

Once free, along with a number of his fellow soldiers, Senator McCain decided to enter public service rather than go into the private sector, despite receiving a number of very lucrative offers.

As a United States Senator, John McCain has gone his own way. He voted against the centerpiece of President George W. Bush's domestic policy agenda, his tax cut bill, simply saying at the time in explaining his vote: "I think it benefits the most wealthy too much and the least wealthy not enough." McCain received scorn from his fellow Republicans for his no vote on the tax cut legislation but stuck to his convictions about the bill.

Senator McCain also was the first Republican to call for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who the Senator said had bungled the war in Iraq so badly he was a complete failure and should take a lesson from the Japanese and fall on his sword. In fact, McCain became the leading spokesperson--Republican and Democrat--for Rumsfeld's firing, which George W. Bush finally did after in large part he realized Senator McCain wouldn't let up on the pressure until it happened.

That Senator McCain could come back from the adversity of captivity and torture as a POW in Vietnam, then spend a career which unlike most Republicans and Democrats can be honestly described as less-partisan if not nearly post-partisan, is the stuff of the founding father's dreams.

As we celebrate Independence Day today, we should think about that new breeze blowing across America, regardless of political party affiliation. It's time to do the founders proud as Americans, which can be as simple as making sure you vote in the Presidential election in November.

Theodore Roosevelt, who was a progressive before there was a real progressive movement in America, said: "This country (the United States) will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in."Teddy Roosevelt was thinking of the founders, as well as the future, when he said that.

For as John F. Kennedy said many decades later: "We dare not forget that we are the heirs of that first (American) revolution."

Today, no two nations in the world have a closer economic, social, political and military relationship that the United Kingdom and its former colony of America. That special relationship has been forged over two world wars, shared values and interests, trade, history and a shared commitment to democracy.

After all, where else but in a nation with a democratic form of government could the leading retailer (Tesco) of a nation (the democratic United Kingdom) that formerly controlled another (the United States) come to that country, America, set up a chain of food stores (Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market) and sell thousands of packages of hamburger, chicken, hot dogs and other meats in early July, which the citizens of that former colony are grilling in their backyards today to celebrate their nation's independence from that former colonial power and one-time oppressor.

What a country--flaws, worts, mistakes, sins and all. Democracies also are the only forms of government able to self-correct.

"Below is the Declaration of Independence, reprinted in its entirety, along with the names and a linked brief biography of each of the signers:

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. 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. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

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.

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.

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.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

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.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these ColoniesFor taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

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 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.

John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

To view an enlarged version and learn more (including details about which founder is where in the painting) about the painting at top,"The Declaration of Independence," by John Turnbull, click here.

1 comment:

The Village Postmaster said...

An enjoyable primer to the American way.

Many thanks