Sometimes, you just need to go back to the beginning to get a sense of how far from the path you have strayed. In this case, I thought a look back at some of our Founding Documents, and the words of our Founders, would be more than appropriate for this Independence Day.
Let’s begin with the Declaration of Independence:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands 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 to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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.
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 endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations 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 affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power….
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 the Head of a civilized nation….
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. 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….
And, in the words of Thomas Paine, "these are the times that try men’s souls." But they are also the times where we look to our own hearts and minds for guidance and a way forward. And I thought this Paine passage was most applicable in that vein:
The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances hath, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all Lovers of Mankind are affected, and in the Event of which, their Affections are interested. The laying a Country desolate with Fire and Sword, declaring War against the natural rights of all Mankind, and extirpating the Defenders thereof from the Face of the Earth, is the Concern of every Man to whom Nature hath given the Power of feeling; of which Class, regardless of Party Censure, is the AUTHOR….
To say that the constitution of England is a UNION of three powers reciprocally CHECKING each other, is farcical, either the words have no meaning, or they are flat contradictions.
To say that the commons is a check upon the king, presupposes two things:
FIRST – That the king is not to be trusted without being looked after, or in other words, that a thirst for absolute power is the natural disease of monarchy.
SECONDLY – That the commons, by being appointed for that purpose, are either wiser or more worthy of confidence than the crown.
But as the same constitution which gives the commons a power to check the king by withholding the supplies, gives afterwards the king a power to check the commons, by empowering him to reject their other bills; it again supposes that the king is wiser than those whom it has already supposed to be wiser than him. A mere absurdity!
There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of monarchy; it first excludes a man from the means of information, yet empowers him to act in cases where the highest judgment is required. The state of a king shuts him from the world, yet the business of a king requires him to know it thoroughly; wherefore the different parts, by unnaturally opposing and destroying each other, prove the whole character to be absurd and useless. (from Common Sense.)
Next, the words of Benjamin Franklin:
Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power. (from Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1738.)
And this from James Madison:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. . . . [There is also an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and . . . degeneracy of manners and of morals. . . . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. . . .
[It should be well understood] that the powers proposed to be surrendered [by the Third Congress] to the Executive were those which the Constitution has most jealously appropriated to the Legislature. . . .
The Constitution expressly and exclusively vests in the Legislature the power of declaring a state of war. . . the power of raising armies. . . the power of creating offices. . . .
A delegation of such powers [to the President] would have struck, not only at the fabric of our Constitution, but at the foundation of all well organized and well checked governments.
The separation of the power of declaring war from that of conducting it, is wisely contrived to exclude the danger of its being declared for the sake of its being conducted.
The separation of the power of raising armies from the power of commanding them, is intended to prevent the raising of armies for the sake of commanding them.
The separation of the power of creating offices from that of filling them, is an essential guard against the temptation to create offices for the sake of gratifying favourites or multiplying dependents. (from Letters of James Madison, 1793)
And, finally, from George Washington:
…With respect to the advice given by the Author, to suspect the Man, who shall recommend moderate measures and longer forbearance, I spurn it, as every Man, who regards liberty, and reveres that justice for which we contend, undoubtedly must; for if Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter…. (Speech to the Officers of the Army, Head Quarters, Newburgh, March 15, 1783.)
For more information, take a peek at these handy document links from the Library of Congress.
Happy Independence Day, everyone. Remember, all of those elected folks in Washington and around the country work for us — not the other way around. It’s time that everyone — elected or commoner alike — remembered that very important distinction. We hold these truths…