A Declaration for All Generations

Local Tiverton history buff and patriot-group advocate Sue Anderson organized her second annual Fourth of July reading of the Declaration of Independence at the Doughboy Statue near the old stone bridge for 9:00, this morning.  Volunteers from among the seventy or so people each read a few lines from the document.

Sue Anderson

The passage marked to read in the pocket Constitution that Sue handed me were these:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.

It was from that passage through the end of the paragraph that some in the crowd began to exhibit a welling of emotion.  Although I was among those “some,” I would not presume to interpret the feeling for others, inasmuch as I could not quite interpret it for myself.  There was something of awe at the historic bravery of the signers listed on the next page, yes.  There was something of pride in being a constituent part of that brave experiment, true.

But it may be that there was a bugle-note’s more of fearful loss.

Two observations stuck me during the reading.  The first was how relevant so many of the enumerated complaints are in our time.  Of course, the specifics have changed, but the echoes are clear and deepening.

  • Refusal to “Assent to Laws” and having “utterly neglected to attend to them”
  • “Unusual, uncomfortable, and distant” convening of public bodies so as to make the process of self-governance more difficult and more amenable to a manipulative top-down will
  • Manipulation of “the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners” as a means of manhandling the balance of political power
  • Making “judges dependent” on the “Will alone” of political bodies
  • “A multitude of New Offices,” sending “hither swarms of Officers to Harrass our people, and eat out their substance”
  • “Standing Armies… kept among us, in times of peace”
  • Contriving “to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution,” giving “Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation”
  • “Abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments”
  • “Declaring” the altered forms to be “invested with power to legislate us in all cases whatsoever”

It is wholly unnecessary to assign these phrases to specific modern controversies. Anybody who is likely to acknowledge their relevance will have a sense of how they apply to the way in which our modern governments — federal, state, and local — treat the people.

Or then again, perhaps it is necessary. The second observation to strike me involved the words over which the adults stumbled.  The children who read hesitated over large or largely antiquated words, but the few hesitations and mispronunciations among the adults came with the markers of civic vocabulary — words like “legislature” and “appropriations.”

This is not a criticism of individuals.  People who have any specific interest should not expect that the words their brains have ready-formed in their mouths will be so natural to others, and even those who are very well informed, indeed, may be more accustomed to the sight of those words in print than the sound of them from lips.

What a project of education faces us, however, when even those who are inclined to stop of a fine summer morning to remember our history can be surprised by its relevance to our own times.  What of those driving by, or yet to wake up?

Where, I wondered, as we closed the pamphlets and chatted our well wishes, is our President?  Is he still in Africa, south of Egypt, where masses of people filling the streets this very week veritably embodied the Declaration’s assertion that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive… it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it”?  Could we, on our own continent, still articulate those words?

Perhaps the strange emotion evoked by our forefathers’ “pledge to each other” could best be characterized as the clash of, on one side, confidence that we will not live much longer without finding out the answer with, on the other, trepidation that for the first time in our history we will not recognize it.


Addendum: In fairness, I should note that the President apparently arrived back in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday night.

24 Responses to “A Declaration for All Generations”

  1. writeby
    July 4, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

    Perhaps it might also be relevant to read some quotes by the Declaration's author, as a reminder of precisely what he meant by 'Independence":

    “Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.”

    “In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance”

    “The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it.”

    "I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth."

    "Fix reason firmly in her seat and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."

    – Thomas Jefferson

    • Cory
      July 4, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

      In writing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson gave us the greatest political document ever written. He was not right about everything though. The fact that he fought for liberty for himself and then continued to hold slaves in bondage made him a hypocrite. Not an uncommon trait among us humans.

      He was also wrong about Christianity. Christianity, as taught by Christ not by the evil men who usurped it for their own tyrannical ends, has been the greatest promoter of true freedom in history. It is no accident that the amazing freedoms we have had in the West came into being only in Christian lands, and that those freedoms wither away when Christianity is driven out or perverted.

      The French revolutionists and communists both thought that by driving out religion and replacing it with ‘reason’ they would create utopia on earth. Instead they created hell on earth.

      The founders, on the other hand, realized the importance of acknowledging God’s hand and place in things and got a dramatically different result.

      Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Love they neighbor as thyself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Those are the only sure foundations of freedom.

      • Warrington Faust
        July 5, 2013 at 9:51 am #

        Cory, I think you must have misunderstood. Jefferson invited the challenge to the existence of God on the following basis; if God exists the rights stated must exist perforce, if God does not exist, the rights do not exist. I assume he expected God to survive the challenge.

        The fact that Jefferson held slaves may be regarded as hypocritical, or it may be a recognition that "politics is the art of the possible".

    • sick of parrots
      July 4, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

      Are you cutting & pasting this all over the internet today? I just came from another blog with the exact same post from you. Try addressing the author's post instead of spam-pasting.

    • Russ
      July 5, 2013 at 10:19 am #

      Another 4th of July tradition, spurious Jefferson quotes!

      “The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it.” http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/beauty-s…

      "I have examined all the known superstitions of the world…" http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/supersti…

      (fwiw, there are quite a few other Jefferson quotes that are critical of Christianity… e.g. "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government.")

      I think the others are Jeffeson btw.

  2. George B
    July 4, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    I curious how many people have read the letters from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to the Obama administration EPA regarding efforts to make Texas regulate carbon dioxide emissions. To me the letters challenge distant authority in a style that reminds me of the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents.



    They’re unusually combative in an era when people generally don’t directly challenge federal government authority out of fear of becoming a target for extra enforcement.

  3. Warrington Faust
    July 5, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    As has been said before, the Declaration of Independence is "American Scripture". The words are emotive not for the quality of the phraseology, but for the truths which they represent.

    It was "little noted, nor long remembered" that the "Rebels" in Tiananmen Square were quoting Jefferson. I wonder, do the words, or concepts, exist in Mandarin? For instance, I understand that the phrase "make money", representing the concept that "the pie" can be enlarged, only exists in English. In Spanish, you "get money", in Greek, you "catch money". Correct me if I am wrong.

  4. Rob C.
    July 5, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

    A beautiful tribute on a beautiful morning in Tiverton. Thank you to Sue Anderson for leading such a special moment, and thank you to OSC for covering it. Maybe some day this can happen in every town…

  5. Old Army Seargent
    July 9, 2013 at 1:28 am #

    An element missing in the previous comments is (IMO) important to the mix, but experienced by few in this day and age. The Declaration's principles are one cornerstone of American Culture, but the words were only made so by the successful revolution that followed them.
    Shedding ones own blood for personal values is not an easy thing to do once, it's harder the second.

    Hence, Jefferson's comments about the "Tree of Liberty".

  6. Lance MacThrust
    July 17, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    What credentials does it require to be known as a "buff?"

    • Justin Katz
      July 17, 2013 at 9:47 am #

      It's an honorary ad hoc title granted by duly acknowledged associates of the recipient.

  7. Lance MacThrust
    July 22, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    Oh, a bullshit artist.

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