Independence: May We Make the Most of It

“WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama is urging Americans on the Fourth of July to live up to the words of the Declaration of Independence by securing liberty and opportunity for their own children as well as for future generations.”

Do you think he really means it?

Consider the ramifications.

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.

The Declaration of Independence was radical in its time.

No less so today.

The Declaration wasn’t simply a rebellion against British rule. It declared void the old way of viewing government and authority. It boldly asserted that We the People are not subject to our “rulers.”

They are subject to us.

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.

Even as we cheer parades, wave flags, and ooh-and-ah at fireworks displays, I fear very few Americans really understand the ramifications of the Declaration of Independence. We’ve abandoned the very principles that drove those who signed it to pledge “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

By declaring independence from England, the American colonists threw off the rule of the British crown. But the Declaration reaches to a deeper level. At its core, it boldly proclaimed We the People do not ultimately submit to any government. We are not subject to the president, or the Congress or even the Supreme Court. Those government institutions derive all of their power from us.

That means they answer to us.

We determine the extent of their power. We have the right to interpose and rein it in when they overstep their authority. And ultimately, we retain the right to strip every bit of their power away.

Consider the words of the New York ratifying convention approving the U.S. Constitution.

The powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness.

When you place events in that context, the colonists were not rebelling against authority. They were asserting their God-given authority over  rebellious government institutions. They were boldly stepping out to halt a ruling class intent on depriving them of their most fundamental rights and liberties.

On May 29, 1765, Patrick Henry stood in the Virginia House of Burgesses to protest the Stamp Act. But he was protesting more than just a single offensive law passed by Parliament. He was questioning the very authority of those who claimed to rule over him. And he issued a poignant warning, much to the alarm of many assembled.

Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third — [“Treason!” cried the Speaker] — may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.

Most likely,  a modern day Patrick Henry would find himself ostracized, ridiculed and marginalized in America. Or perhaps locked away. Today, I fear most Americans’ values fall more closely in line with the Tories than with the Patriots. Those who fanned the flames of Revolution – the men and women we hail as heroes today – were the rebels and radicals of their time, risking everything for this abstract concept of liberty.

On this Independence Day, take a break from the cookouts, parades and fireworks and spend a few moments in reflection. Consider what our founders fought and died for. It wasn’t for the opportunity to cower on marble steps in Washington D.C. and beg for permission to live free.

Some call me radical. Some call me an extremest. Some call me a rebel.

So be it.

If this be true, may I make the most of it.

 

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