And so we celebrated again the birth of our amazing nation, the fulfillment of a great dream that was laid out in the Declaration of Independence 242 years ago. For many of us, there were festivities as we paused to salute our country’s beginnings, steeped in the bloodshed of a stirring revolution.
But put the fireworks, the parades and the picnics aside for just minute. Go find a copy of the Declaration of Independence, in an encyclopedia or online. It’s worth re-reading every Independence Day, to help us remember how and why our nation came to be.
The list of grievances against the British monarch is long and shocking — such a tyrant would be overthrown more quickly today, we would hope.
It’s the document’s aspirational statements that move us most. Especially this:
“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. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”
Those are thoughts we need to remember as we go about our daily lives, and especially as we choose our elected representatives and watch what they are doing on our behalf. Are they treating us as if we are all equal, or has that become too rare as our country heads toward its 250th birthday? Does our government still enhance and protect those unalienable rights? Are we still able to live free and pursue our individual visions of happiness? And do our government representatives — at every level — show that they understand that their just powers are derived from us, the citizens and the voters? We’re not sure we can always answer those questions with an enthusiastic “yes.”
We face, in fact, some growing government crises these days, as we become an increasingly polarized society. Our elected representatives too often act as if they are empowered by their own consent, not ours. In no small measure, that’s because we have allowed a permanent governing class to evolve, departing from the Founders’ model of part-time citizen-legislators who served a few years and then went back to their farms or businesses and let the next wave of temporary representatives take over. They were, it turned out, good stewards.
Is it time for another revolution? Not one of blood and cannon fire, but rather one in which the people take firmer control of their government, by stepping up and getting involved with the governance of our cities, towns, counties, states and the country.
We’re overdue for that new revolution. Think about that today. It’s important.