Friday, July 17, 2015

The Declaration of Independence

The Fourth of July is a holiday on which Americans celebrate our achieving independence from Great Britain.  Independence, of course, was not obtained on the Fourth but it is the day the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Second Continental Congress as the rationale for independence.

The Declaration of Independence is best remembered for its statements of belief:

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 . . . .

The bold assertion of the signers’ closing statement is also well remembered:
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.

Americans will recall that the Declaration of Independence contained a long list of complaints personally attributed to the “present King of Great Britain” including, “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.”  Many government actions cited as grievances against King George III were later prohibited in the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution.

The Declaration of Independence reflects many years of evolving concepts of the role of one nation among other nations, English rights and liberties and parliamentary ascendancy over the British monarch.

While work is still needed to accomplish the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence, it has been an inspiration for the drafters of the US Constitution and the framework of government of many other nations and of US states and has also served as an inspiration to the writers of subsequent declarations—many of which embraced goals which may have seemed unattainable at the time.

The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions passed by the Woman’s Rights Convention, held at Seneca Falls, NY, in 1848 began with the first ten words of the Declaration of Independence and included an extensive list of grievances and omissions. The Seneca Falls declaration proclaimed, that “all men and women are created equal.”

On July 6, this year, in the Huffington Post, U.S. Congressman Alan Grayson (Florida’s 9th District) called for a new declaration of independence from oppression.  Rep. Grayson cited bigotry, 1984-style surveillance, misinformation, and narrow-minded, extremist or violent religious fundamentalists as evils.  On workers’ exploitation, he said that, Bad bosses are today's King George.”

For an extended discussion, see David Armitage’s article, “The Declaration of Independence in Global Perspective.”

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