July 4, 2008
Declaration of FreedomBy Bruce Walker
What is “independence” Day?
The Fourth of July is Independence Day in America. But what is Independence Day? Well, it is firecrackers and hot dogs. It is flags and parades. It is a reminder that the terms “United States” began with the Declaration of Independence. History students know that Thomas Jefferson was more the editor of a committee than an author per se of that document. They know that Philadelphia was not only the city of the Declaration but also of the Constitution thirteen years later. Philadelphia was not just another city in the vast British Empire: Philadelphia was larger than any city in the British Empire except for London; it was bigger than Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, New York, or Glasgow.
Nearly all of us know that the Fourth of July was the day in which some men, usually called our Founding Fathers, signed a document known as the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776, Most Americans know that it begins with the flowery words “When in the course of human events…” and picks up soon with “…we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to establish these rights, governments are formed among men, drawing their just powers from the consent of the governed…” The Fourth of July, however, is often called “Independence Day.” Does that name fit?
Wasn’t British North America “independent” already?
On July 4, 1776, the War of Independence had been going on for more than two years. George Washington was our commanding general and patriots had been fighting the British in battles as far flung as Montreal and North Carolina long before the document proclaiming independence was signed.
Not only were armies fighting, but navies were fighting too. The Continental Congress, the government of the new American polity, created a navy for the new nation in October 1775. Our new nation had four warships and a commander-in-chief, and our warships flew the Naval Jack, the well-known “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. By December 1775, the Continental Congress had authorized this new national American Navy to expand to thirteen frigates. Before declaring independence, the Continental Congress had also sought out, diplomatically, foreign aid from France and other nations.
Americans were fighting the British on land and sea long before the Declaration of Independence, but did we consider ourselves legally separate? The First Continental Congress was formed in 1774 and Articles of Association were signed in October 1774. The rules and regulations passed by this body directly conflicted with the Acts of Parliament. This government issued currency – paper money – on its own authority, and before the end of 1775, six million dollars in official currency of our nation had been printed and circulated.
All of this certainly sounds like independence, doesn’t it? Our new nation had an army, a navy, a flag, a congress, a foreign policy, and paper money. Was it not clear to everyone by then that the genie was not going back in the bottle? Our nation had a President of the Continental Congress, a Commander-in-Chief of the Army, a Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, and its own money.
The world should know
Yet there is something special to us about the Declaration of Independence. The independence of new nations or the union of old nations with bigger nations was not special. Europe had seen it go on for many centuries. Poland and Scotland popped out of existence. The Swiss Cantons and the United Provinces (Netherlands) popped into existence. The Swiss and Dutch even had some fairly modern ideas about tolerance and democracy. Yet the world does not celebrate the independence of those nations. Why us?
There was something very special about our Declaration of Independence. The proceedings of the First Continental Congress and the Second Continental Congress (which ratified the Declaration of Independence) are plaintive, parochial, and picky. The proceedings sound rather like this: “Can’t we just all get along?” “Boston is suffering from a severe economic downturn because of the British blockade,” or The Crown has denied our right to trial by jury and held trials in Britain.”
The Declaration of Independence, like the Constitution, like the Bill of Rights, like the Gettysburg Address, is a short document. The words of Jefferson, in the first paragraph of the Declaration, explain why it is being written: “… when it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds 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 for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” A decent respect for the opinions of mankind – that is the reason for the Declaration of Independence.
This was not a document for governments: It was a document for the human race. Those who signed the Declaration of Independence were already dead men, if the war was lost: The signers did not sign their death warrant by affixing their names to this brief declaration, but by warring for two years by land and by sea against their political masters. The Declaration of Independence, unlike the Scottish Declaration of Aborath or the English Magna Carta or Petition of Rights or any other human document in history, proclaimed to all mankind the very foundations of government.
So the short written message to the human race continues, after the familiar “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” to these vital words: “That to secure these rights, Governments are formed among Men, drawing 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…”
The Reason for Governments
Governments are formed for one limited, specific reason, proclaimed those men in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. Men do not form governments to take care of the sick and needy (people of conscience are enjoined to do that out of the fear of God.) Men do not form governments to build schools or fund health care (philanthropists had been doing this very efficiently for thousands of years without a single government bureaucracy.) Men do not even form governments to keep the economy strong or prevent inflation (our government did not even print money for many decades, and it did not permit money which was not redeemable in gold for more than 150 years after the Declaration.)
The Declaration of Independence proclaims, not to governments but to people everywhere, that government is intended to protect us from government. It proclaims that government itself is simply a way of protecting liberty, and that the liberty protected is liberty from government itself. The specific list of abuses listed in the last part of the Declaration of Independence have nothing to do with the Crown failing to provide health care, schools, welfare programs, prosperity, support for farmers, rights for union workers, or any of the other thousand things we little children ask of it now.
That list of abuses in the Declaration of Independence speaks of the bad things that the Crown has done, such as: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass the people and eat out their substance.” The signers say that government must not deny the governed their rights to liberty and that when it does so, Nature’s God grants us, the governed, the right to reclaim our liberty. That – liberty, and not independence – is what the Declaration of Independence is all about. On the Fourth of July, we celebrate, or we should celebrate, the divine right of freedom.
Our independence is not independence from Britain, which has turned out to be among the best nations among the community of nations. Our independence is from the old notion that government had a right to exist, without regard to the only truly righteous purpose for that government. We Americans rejected that. We embraced liberty as the purpose of government. So let us celebrate our Declaration of Independence from government as government. Let us celebrate our Declaration of Liberty.
Bruce Walker is the author of The Swatika and the Cross and Sinisterism.