I’m veering slightly off topic in this post because of what today is–the 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence–although the subject is really all about words and their power. It’s easy to gloss over why we celebrate a holiday, especially when it has been hundreds of years since the last person involved in the originating event has died. For us, Independence Day is an almost guaranteed day off with barbecues, family and friends, fireworks and lots of red, white and blue. I’d like to ask you to take a momentary break from all of that to think about why you are doing it.
We grumble about how messed up our government is, but we have the opportunity to change it every single year through free local, state and federal elections. You can thank for that a group of visionaries who, 238 years ago today, stated the reasons why they would no longer be governed by men they had no voice in choosing. Really consider their words:
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…
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.
That is truly heady stuff. Those guys went on to fight the most powerful military force the world had ever known to secure for you and me the right not only to complain about our government but also to change it regularly and without bloodshed. Every fourth of July, I reread these words because I take them for granted on the other 364 days. The sentiments seem so obvious–almost trite–to us, but that is because they forever altered the world 238 years ago.
On this and every Independence Day, I wish for you and yours well-grilled meat, cherished company and a pause to remember why you are so fortunate to be an American. Thanks for reading!