Declaring Independence

Last week when I was visiting friends in a small, rural German village, my host’s eighteen year-old daughter, Lara, asked if I knew the “Declaration of Independence.” “Of course,” I quickly stated while punctuating that harrumph with the added self-assuring thought to myself, “What American doesn’t know the Declaration of Independence.” “We’re studying it in school,” she added. “Our teacher is making us memorize the introduction. Why do we have to do that? It’s two-hundred thirty years old. This is stupid!” Silence. Hmmm. She asked me if I REALLY know it, not if I knew about it! “Do you know it from heart – can you say it right now?” I inquired incredulously. Without a moment’s hesitation she blurted out the nearly 300 words in perfectly elocuted, well-delivered English. As she is reciting I am wondering, how many American kids her age can do this? My two at home are fourteen and fifteen and they don’t have a clue! I want to think they are typical middle school / high school kids, so – hypothesizing from and “n” of two – American kids get a big “F” for failure on this one. But what about the larger question she asked, “Why do we have to do that?” that is the real bugaboo. Why, indeed.

The trite answer is, “use it or lose it.” Urban legend has it that many of the signers of the “Declaration of Independence” came to a bad end due to their association with that act. While Snopes argues that many of these legends are exactly that, fabrications, checking world history, liberty does come at a price and freedom when taken for granted is lost. The common thread through the rise and fall of liberty and freedom is the ascent or descent of political and economic systems within a governmental jurisdiction. Clearly, the trajectory is an arc and what goes up must come down. Nothing stays the same; the only constant is change; and as an old “bull of the woods” boss of mine used to say, “The only thing that runs itself, runs downhill.”

In The New York Times, June 27, 2006 edition, Op-Ed Columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof wrote an editorial entitled, Chinese Medicine for American Schools. Dateline: Shanghai, Kristof writes:

But the investments in China’s modernization that are most impressive of all are in human capital. The blunt fact is that many young Chinese in cities like Shanghai or Beijing get a better elementary and high school education than Americans do. That’s a reality that should embarrass us and stir us to seek lessons from China.

And he concludes with the following:

During the Qing Dynasty that ended in 1912, China was slow to learn lessons from abroad and adjust its curriculum, and it paid the price in its inability to compete with Western powers. These days, the tables are turned, and now we Americans need to learn from China.

China, on the ascent, is blocking the Internet from its citizens…

…and the citizens are fighting it.

The U.S., on the descent, is spying on its citizens

…and we do what?

When the Declaration of Independence was enacted in 1776 Great Britain was drawing closer to the apogee of its strength as the greatest political and economic power on earth. While the hard-fought independence of the American colonies did not compromise Great Britain’s destiny as a world super power, it did send a signal that despite such greatness nothing lasts forever. Others will challenge what is taken for granted. And as was the case with the former American colonies, the United States eventually supplanted Britain as a stronger powerhouse on the world stage.

Below are the “charges” brought against King George II – deemed by the colonists who revolted, “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.”

The United States Declaration of Independence, continued:

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.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

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.

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.

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.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws of Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

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:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

So, who’s going up and who’s coming down make all the difference. Based on who is affronted by such conditions and the context in which they live their lives, people choose to either accept those conditions or challenge them. It is in making this choice that the principles defining the space where liberty and freedom prevail are brought to the forefront, given true meaning, and set the stage for a just civilization to progress. The very conditions imposed by an unjust government from which the colonists declared their independence now perpetrates those same conditions on its citizens and others. What some 230 years ago was unacceptable is now relegated to the ranks of the routine. We are quickly forgetting why our forefathers took the stand they did. But it won’t take others elsewhere to pick up the banner from us. Liberty, freedom, and justice that underpin them, live on forever! And that, my friends, is why we read and memorize the Declaration of Independence!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Tuesday, July 4, 2006

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