Spirit of ’76, Part II: If you’re lost, check the map
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It is essentially a memo drafted by a committee, albeit one that had the good sense to delegate the work to the best writer in the group, Thomas Jefferson.
The 33-year-old Virginian required —anyone sweating a deadline please take note — 18 days to turn around his assignment, writing the first draft of the Declaration of Independence in quill and ink in his rented two-room suite at the home of Philadelphia bricklayer Jacob Gaff.
I would imagine the average supposedly patriotic American ready to expound on how the intentions of the founders should guide our daily lives today has little idea of what the Declaration of Independence actually says.
Such as our president, currently picking a new Supreme Court justice to serve for 20 or 30 years, eagerly embracing the supposed original intentions of the founders, when useful. But what were the intentions of our founders, originally? As outlined at the start, in our founding document, the first roadmap, a declaration so important we honor its final adoption on July 4, 1776 to this very day.
The Declaration of Independence formally announces our break with Great Britain. But why? Does it give a hint of a reason, beyond the famous but vague phrases about self-evident truths and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Yes, it does. The bulk of 1337 words are a protracted list of grievances against one man, King George III, the “Author of our Miseries,” to use the words of Richard Henry Lee.
Thirteen consecutive paragraphs, each beginning “He has…” A list of detailed gripes. The king “refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” He called together “legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant.” He dissolved legislatures and blocked elections.
Then this, the seventh complaint:
“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.”
What was that? “Obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners”?! A key reason our founding fathers offered to justify wrenching away from their mother country and fighting a bloody revolutionary war was because Great Britain was interfering with our ability to process immigrants? Because we knew we needed them in order to build and maintain a healthy country?
Gosh. Kinda makes you wish that the people supporting our current president could process new information and amend their opinions based on that information. Thank God there rest of us can do that, and run these people out of office beginning in November the way the American patriots ran off the British and their loyalist supporters. Always good to remember: a quarter of the country stayed loyal to Britain.
Our nation, from its first baby step, had to deal with those desperate to dwell in the past. It didn’t start in 2016.
So put out the flag and say the pledge. In honor, not just of the words of the Declaration of Independence, which guide us to this day, but the men who affixed their names to it, and the women who supported them.
Who were not going to to spend their lives taking orders from some regal despot enfolded in luxury who had no idea what this country actually needed. Who would reject “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.”
Hmm, familiar. Half the country gets this. The other half never will. In the next two years the two sides will battle to decide if our current state is a historical detour —one of many— or the ditch where our quest for freedom will end, upside down, wheels spinning. Whether American history is a funnel with Thomas Jefferson going in one end and Donald Trump popping out the other.
On this July 4, remember the Declaration of Independence. Also remember the founders, brave patriots who took a bold stand, at great personal cost. The British were hurrying boatloads of troops in New York even as the declaration was being written. Many founders lost their lives, land, riches, all because they saw the magnificent nation the United States could become and has indeed been, with noteworthy lapses. The honest, free, law-abiding nation it remains, despite all, and might yet continue to be. Happy 4th of July.