An American Civics Refresher in 2019
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to take stock of what this country has become, I believe that July 4th presents an excellent opportunity to cut through the noise of media - both traditional and social - and to revisit the founding principals of this country, as laid out in our declaration of independence. Doing so provides a remarkable chance to recognize that all of this talk of what the founders wanted, juxtaposed against what the world looks like today, is nothing more than a fools errand.
"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."
This means that freedom is not a national privilege bestowed upon anyone by the providence of where they are born; instead, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are universal truths belonging to all people, and all people are free to pursue these truths no matter where they are born.
"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."
Meaning it is the responsibility of the people to establish their government, with job number one being to ensure that the government works for ALL people who are in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, not just those who are born within the borders of its nation state.
"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."
Here, TJ was saying that it isn't easy to change a governmental system, nor should it be. Furthermore, most people would suffer rather than fix a broken thing. But he's only getting started - this is the long windup for his next point.
"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."
This is the crucial part. When ANY form of government claims that it is protecting its people from any other people who are seeking life, liberty or happiness, it is, by definition, despotism - the exercise of absolute power, especially in a cruel and oppressive way. But the Declaration of Independence demands that in the face of despotism, there is only one course of action to be taken by the populace of that country - to remove that government, and provide a new one - one, which guarantees that all people may once again be free to pursue life, liberty and happiness.
Simply put, it is anathema for anyone who supports despotism to take part in the celebration of a free and independent country - especially in the United States of America. The founding declaration makes it abundantly clear that anything less than freedom for all is an affront to the unalienable rights afforded to all human beings by their creator.
Then, Jefferson decided to enumerate all of the unacceptable reasons why our colonial leadership was simply unacceptable and incompatible with any God-given right to freedom, or as he so cleverly put it - “To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world:”
“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. (1)
“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.” (Ibid.)
“He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.” (Ibid.)
“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.” (ibid.)
“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.” (ibid.)
“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.” (Ibid.; see also: William Barr, Brett Kavanaugh)
“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.” (2)
“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:” (3)
“For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:” (4)
“For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:” (5)
“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:” (6)
“For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:” (7)
“For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.” (Ibid., see also: countless stories from the last two years)
“He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.” (8)
“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us,” (9)
“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.” (See: countless temper tantrums from the last two years)
The beautiful irony of all of this is that our Declaration of Independence provides all of us - including those who don’t understand that the current administration is both a constitutional and existential threat to our free and independent democratic republic - the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. That’s what makes us such a strange and complex country. But I do believe it is the duty of all Americans - and those seeking to become American - to revisit these principles each year and decide for themselves if they have the right to call themselves Americans in a spirit owed more to the guiding ideas of our declaration of independence, more than just the providence of being born here.
Jefferson himself spells out the reasoning:
“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.”
Maybe they can build the presidential library at the Hague. Just saying.