By J.F. McKenna
Every American knows that July Fourth marks the nation’s birthday. Yet every citizen, even 240 years after the event, remains vague about the details of the birth announcement.
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.
Drafted by the eloquent Thomas Jefferson the month before its appearance in July 1776 is a birth announcement that traces it inspiration to other, older thinkers but is, and remains, America’s initial commitment to personal freedom. To quote the singular historian-journalist Richard Brookhiser in his 2006 book What Would the Founders Do? the Declaration of Independence, followed by the Constitution and The Federalist Papers, is the first among the nation’s “user manuals.”
“Our founders are close by,” writes Brookhiser, “and they cast long shadows.” In fact, to read the Declaration today is to remind ourselves that the founders’ shadow is one of and for liberty against tyrants who are often not merely petty but petulant toward fellow human beings. Consider just a handful of the indictments against the King of Great Britain in 1776 (and consider if the same charges do not address some leaders in 2016).
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
Before 56 names found their way to the bottom of this document, the Declaration offers this charged summary: 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.
Before the first hot dog gets mustarded out and before the first cry of “Play Ball!” is heard next week, maybe a bit of recharging of our Americanism is in order. The same year my birth announcement was issued, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis declared the value of doing so.
“There is in most Americans some spark of idealism, which can be fanned into a flame,” Justice Brandeis wrote. “It takes some time a divining rod to find what it is; but when found, and that means often, when disclosed to the owners, the results are often extraordinary.”
CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor, and marketing-communications consultant. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their dog, Lord Max. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org