Thoughts on Independence Day

This year as the fourth of July approaches I’ve been thinking a lot about my wild yet enlightened uncle Charlie.  Although I have several agreeable uncles, Charlie was the coolest of the bunch and as a young lad I looked up to him.

Born in the ‘50s into a musical family, Charlie aka “Chuck” grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, riding motorcycles, playing baseball and the electric guitar.  He listened to classic rock—always at maximum volume of course, later introducing me to the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and other musical greats.  He also introduced me to the great philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, and Enlightenment thinking in general ... plopping five-hundred-page books on my desk as an “assignment.”  He always lived life to the fullest and unfortunately passed away last year at a young age, perhaps related to living it so fully.

Lookin’ for Adventure ... Easy Rider

What does this have to do with the coming weekend?  Well, if you’re not familiar with holidays of the United States, July fourth is more importantly known as Independence Day.  Roughly, the anniversary of the day thirteen American colonies declared themselves free of the tyranny of the British Crown and therefore able to choose their own destiny.

One of the clearer memories of my early years as a young teenage punk, was a summer afternoon (Journey probably playing in the background) when my uncle said:
“Oh yeah ... you’ve gotta read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  You’ll be amazed at the crazy *** you’ll read in there!  Politicians today would think you’re a lunatic if you brought up the ideals of the founding fathers.”
(*** stuff/shit/things - Memory fuzzy on that point.)
—Uncle Chuck, circa 1983
Hmm ... the documents I learned about in history class?  Ok I thought, I don’t have them handy (and won’t be on the internet for another full decade at least).  But, Chuck is pretty cool—I’ll file the observation away for later.

Eventually a few years passed, and I did get around to them.  It turns out they’re not as long (or boring) as you might think, just two or three pages for the Declaration, double or triple that for the Constitution.  That’s pretty damn concise for the definition of a new country and a new experiment in government in general.  And guess what, I was amazed. 

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

So this weekend, I call on you to put that second burger down a moment and take a look at the Declaration of Independence yourself.  Here’s my amateur take:
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.
A very elegant way of saying it’s over and here’s why, wouldn’t you agree?  It gets better ...
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.
These are the “magic words of American history,” as described by historian, Joseph J. Ellis.  Some of the most well-known and important words that have ever been written. 

These first paragraphs speak heavily of Natural Rights, the idea that freedom is a gift from nature and/or one’s creator, and can’t simply be taken away by a government.  The idea wasn’t new at the time, and are in fact borrowed in part from John Locke and other Enlightenment figures.  Thomas Jefferson, the primary author and his contemporaries, John Adams, Ben Franklin, and others in the Continental Congress therefore built upon the shoulders of giants before them in authoring the document.  What was new was that the future American union would be the first direct implementation of many of these ideals.  The French Revolution would come soon afterward, becoming the second.

Wait a minute, did they just say that a government that doesn’t meet the needs of its citizens should be destroyed?  Yes they did. 

Continuing on:
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.
We don’t take these actions lightly, have suffered a long time, and will not comply any longer.
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.
A list of grievences follows (left for the reader to discover), including an unfortunate passage about Indian savages.  In short—we haven’t the benefits of representation, but only the burdens and malicious punishments of the Empire.
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.
Our questions and complaints to our friends in the British public and parliament have fallen on deaf ears.


The Declaration goes on to declare that the Colonies are now Free and Independent States.  The reasoning is clear:
  • Citizens have the right and duty to change their government when it fails to meet their needs.
  • The British Monarchy and Parliament have created this very situation.
  • Therefore, all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be dissolved.
From the perspective of today the decision to declare independence seems obvious, but it is important to remember how vulnerable and dependent the American colonies were on Great Britain for protection and trade at the time.  There were many difficult decisions to be made and there were many dissenters who disagreed that it was a good idea.  (See the Further Reading section for more details.)

So, not very long was it?  The U.S. Constitution is of course is the more substantial document, and includes more numerous ideas that might be considered “crazy” by the today’s standards.

Back to the Present

Every year or two I read these documents again, and every year experience affirms my uncle’s theory a bit more.  Numbskull politicians never rest in their attempts to butt into your business, spend your money, and legislate morality.  They eschew republicanism (not the party) while wrapping themselves up in the flag and constitution as if they have even a tiny bit in common with them.  Wherever you grew up on the political landscape you’ve encountered this. 

The most egregious example of the current status quo that comes to mind was a televised debate for the 2008 Republican nomination for president, where the panel of candidates (backed up by the media) did their best to insinuate that Congressman Ron Paul in his calls to return to the ideals of the Constitution, was unelectable and perhaps should even put in an asylum.

So, on this Independence day, let’s remember uncle Chuck’s advice.  Take a few minutes, read and ponder the Declaration of Independence.  It’ll give you something to do besides downing hot dogs and risking the loss of your extremities to explosion.  Join me in making it a tradition.  And if an ignoramus gives you shit about it, just call ‘em a communist, like uncle Chuck would’ve.  Should shut ’em right up, hehe.

Finally, let’s remember that the important part of the holiday is the independence and freedom, not that it was declared on a Thursday in July.  Now back to the regularly scheduled concerts and BBQ.

Neal Schon - Star Spangled Banner   (Saw this live once w/ U.C.)

Further Reading:

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