Happy Independence Day!
I know, it’s actually “July 4th” or the “Fourth of July,” but it’s official name is “Independence Day,” and I think it’s a good idea to call it that every once in a while, so we don’t forget why we have this holiday.
In particular, remember that the Declaration of Independence does not begin by saying:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary to establish a holiday in early summer, late enough that it’s not all that likely to rain, so we can cook outside and enjoy the manifest bounty of various forms of beef on the grill, or chicken for those watching their cholesterol, and to end the day with a colorful display of fireworks whose symbolism has long been forgotten, but which are really beautiful anyway …
Nor does it say:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary to establish a federal government to provide jobs, health care, education, drug approvals, seat-belt and helmet laws, farm subsidies to keep food prices high, food stamps for those who can’t afford the high prices, and to tax the rich to maintain “fairness” and “equality” …
No, the actual Declaration of Independence begins like this:
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 last part is really the part that was “revolutionary.” Prior to that point in time, it was generally agreed that whoever had the most soldiers, knights, weapons, and so on had the right to rule however he (or sometimes, she) wanted, to collect taxes for his own personal benefit, and to have the power of life and death over his subjects and anyone he could bring under his authority by force of arms. In some times and places, this was called the “Divine Right of Kings” — and of course, the king obtained this “divine right” by having the most soldiers, weapons, etc.
The king derived his powers from force of arms, not from principles of justice or the consent of the governed. It was the people’s job to serve the king and his government.
The Declaration of Independence turned this on its head, claiming — ludicrously, it must have seemed to most Europeans at the time — that it was the government’s job to serve the people, and the government’s right to exercise power came not from force of arms, but from “the consent of the governed.”
That was truly Revolutionary — and the only reason it didn’t sound ludicrous in the colonies is that they had been more or less governing themselves in many matters for 150 years. This was of course due more to geographic isolation from the king and slow communications than to any matters of principle, but the funny this about freedom is that once you get it, you get used to it, and you don’t want to give it up. Mikhail Gorbachev discovered this the hard way when he tried to save the collapsing Soviet economy by giving people a small degree of freedom. The taste of it was enough to them to bring on the collapse of the entire Soviet enterprise, from Kamchatka to East Berlin. (Remember when there was an “East” Berlin?)
It’s worth noting the causes of two of the seminal events in the American Revolution — the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The Boston Tea Party was a protest against high taxes on tea (from which a government-favored company was exempt, the way some localities “grant” tax breaks to companies to “attract jobs”). The Battle of Lexington and Concord occurred when General Thomas Gage ordered British troops in Boston to confiscate guns and ammunition from the people of Concord.
In other words, we declared independence and started a war to get rid of high taxes and gun control. Don’t tell John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, who live where it all started.
Jim Hoeft at Bearing Drift has some more cynical — but sadly, true — thoughts.
Kat of CatHouseChat is slightly more positive.
And Here’s the Virginia Blog Carnival â€” Independence Day edition