This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.
- Thomas Jefferson
FROM THE FRONT
By Len Semas Main Feature 7/4/2016)
HAPPY 240TH BIRTHDAY, AMERICA
For many, today is the “Fourth of July.” For others, it’s “Independence Day.” What’s the difference? Well, quite simply, the difference is bar-b-q and fireworks, contrasted with freedom and America’s birth. The first celebrates the day while the second celebrates the reason. It seems increasingly, we are focused more on the day and forgetful of the reason.
We’ve only been around as a nation for 240 years. The Roman Empire, by contrast, lasted almost 1500 years. Even the Portuguese Empire – my ancestors - endured almost 600 years. So what’s the big deal? We can look at how we came into existence, for one thing – an unlikely event considering we had to achieve military victory over the world’s most powerful army and naval forces. We can also consider the documents that put into words the foundation for our existence, and the mechanism for governing, in relatively few but amazingly powerful words.
ACCUSTOMED TO SUBSERVIENCE
Until the American Revolution, we were subjects of the King of England and controlled by English law. Just as we have become apathetic in rejecting the expanding taxation, rules and regulations imposed upon us today, so did the colonists then. As Thomas Paine noted in Common Sense,
“Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour; a long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.” (emphasis is mine)
Our forefathers had grown comfortable in the state of things. There were those, however, that were inspired by Paine’s words and the revolutionary actions of others like Sam Adams who yearned to be free.
POPULARITY AND SUPPORT
We had to overcome opposition to the status quo as subjects, rather than free men and women. With a population of 2.5 million, only about a third actively supported our separation from England, while a half a million or more rejected it and the rest, about 1.2 million could go either way. Perhaps 50-100 colonists were actively involved in the revolutionary process, with a core group of 10-15 whom we consider “Founders.” The number who served in the Continental Army is unknown but a low point was during the infamous Valley Forge winter of 1777 with about 4,000 and a peak was reached in 1779 with about 26,000 men. Clearly, support for revolution was not overwhelming, but it burned with a passion in the hearts and minds of its proponents.
ASSEMBLAGE OF MINDS
One of the most amazing things about the American Revolution is the personalities. It can only be explained as an act of divine providence that the collection of brilliant minds, dedicated public servants, and capable leaders came together at one specific time, in one place, and for one common purpose. The names are generally well known: Washington, Jefferson, Adams (Sam and John), Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Jay, Paine among them. What is not always appreciated is the level of capability of these men.
One memorable acknowledgement is in the words of John F. Kennedy, who while greeting a luncheon comprised of the world’s leading scientists, remarked: “There has probably never been an assemblage in this room of such brilliance, except perhaps for the time Thomas Jefferson dined here alone.” That there was not one, but a dozen “Jeffersons,” simply cannot be explained in ordinary terms.
The American Revolution lasted from 1775 to 1783, or about 8 years. We have been in the Middle East far longer. There has been no lack of equipment, arms or military support in waging our current wars. By contrast, the Revolution was underfunded from the start. Troop strength was low, many were not paid, and a number went without food and equipment – even boots, socks and jackets! Only the leadership of George Washington and the love of him by his men kept them on the battlefield. A low point was reached in the winter of 1977 at Valley Forge, with enlistments plummeting even more than the temperature. Morale was low and some had mutinied and deserted. It was time for yet another miracle, and one appeared in the form of the great revolutionary wordsmith, Thomas Paine. Just as his pamphlet, Common Sense, rallied Americans to the revolutionary cause, his new work, An American Crisis, was directed at those on the front line. He wrote:
“THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER" and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.”
The powerful words were ordered by Washington to be read throughout the command. As they listened, men were moved to tears, even weeping, at the need to be reminded of their cause. Those not moved so emotionally, bowed their heads in embarrassment and shame that they considered abandoning the cause. Paine’s eloquent call to duty resulted in improved morale and enlistments and was a key to the ultimate victory of the Continental Army.
THE OBJECT OF REVOLUTION
This was not a revolution against taxation, or food and necessities, or of any other material purpose. The object of revolution was one simple word: Freedom. The Founders believed that man’s nature as granted by God was to be free. All other states of existence were dependent upon this. The ability to be happy, to own a business, to create associations and friendships and all other behaviors or states of being were dependent upon being free. It was the nature of tyrants subjugating others to remove freedom as the essence of control. The only way to ensure freedom was to recognize it as an endowment from our Creator, and to include within that freedom the right to CREATE a governing force, not the reverse. The perfection and eloquence of our Declaration of Independence is built on this simple concept:
“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.”
The Founders also recognized that power, once granted, could be abused and that the right to create government had to include to right to alter or abolish it:
“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.”
These principles define in the simplest of terms the relationship between mankind and a state of government, with respect to the essential element of freedom.
On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was accepted by the Continental Congress and promulgated to the world. It was a task given to Thomas Jefferson, with editing and revisions by several others, including John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. The two-week long process was a creation of Jefferson’s own brilliance, as well as his readings of others, principally John Lock and the French philosopher, Montesquieu. The resulting document is the most perfect framework for the relationship between man and government ever penned. We, and our posterity, are the benefactors of it, and the constitution that followed. The closing words in the Declaration remind us of why we celebrate this day each year:
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.
This day is much than simply the fourth day in July; it more than a day off from work, or a bar-b-q with family and friends. At some point during this day, it is important to reflect upon the fundamental reason for its celebration.
Note: The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. Fifty years later, on July 4, 1826, its principal architect, Thomas Jefferson, and fellow contributor and Founder, John Adams, both died. Again, the hand of the Creator appears to have given us one last reminder of his presence.