In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America,
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.
On this day, 240 years ago in Philadelphia, the revolutionary Declaration of Independence, drafted by a committee headed by Thomas Jefferson, was proclaimed to the two and a half million people throughout what would become the United States of America.
One of history’s most memorable affirmations of freedom — at a time when 20% of Americans were slaves — the declaration asserted a universal human right to “…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Of its 1,338 words, the most famous and enduring are the 106 of the second paragraph above.
This bold document — in effect, a declaration of war against the mother country — closed with the signatures of 56 brave men who pledged their lives, fortunes and their sacred honor.
Many would pay with imprisonment, financial ruin, torture and death.
While the goal of life, liberty and happiness lives in memory, most of the document is a serious catalog of “a long train of abuses and usurpations … the absolute despotism” suffered by the American colonials under the tyranny of King George III.
These new Americans were so aggrieved by their treatment that they claimed a right, even a duty “…to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Two hundred and forty years later, we 324 million Americans should review and compare the very real sufferings and denial of rights that provoked the war for independence from Great Britain: unjust judges, biased courts, disregard for the rule of law, denial of trial by jury, searches without warrants or consent, illegal arrests on false charges, false imprisonment, refusal to respond to petitions, armed invasion of homes and murders by “… swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”
It pains me to mention the obvious parallels to today’s America. We exist under modern, hi-tech versions of all these horrors, from unfair taxes and civil forfeiture, to illegal surveillance, lack of due process, murderous home invasions by police and the largest prison population of any country in the world.
At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863, 87 years after the Declaration of Independence, President Abraham Lincoln eloquently recalled Jefferson’s principles.
He reminded those present that America in 1776 was “…a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Lincoln posed a serious question for all Americans, then and now: Did the estimated 750,000 Civil War dead (and the 1.5 million who died in all our wars) die in vain? Are their sacrifices meaningless?
Lincoln’s resolve should be ours today: “…That these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Ask yourself: Does such a government exist in America today?
If not, what are we to do about it?
As Thomas Jefferson lay dying at Monticello, his Virginia hilltop estate, in June 1826, he wrote a letter to citizens in Washington, D.C., saying he was too ill to join them for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Declaration of Independence. It was Jefferson’s last letter.
He died 10 days later, on July 4, 1826, within hours of the passing of his old friend and fellow founder, John Adams, the second U.S. president. In his letter, Jefferson hoped that the Fourth of July would “…forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
The Roman orator and senator Cicero was of the opinion that “nature has planted in our minds an insatiable desire to see the truth.” The truth is that unless America changes its course, we have failed. Our celebrated independence is lost, replaced by another official tyranny.
The U.S. government, under both political parties, has destroyed more American liberties than King George III and the British ever did.
Under the undefined, open-ended “war on terror” and the failed “war on drugs,” politicians have steadily eroded our American liberties. The Patriot Act brought back the hated colonial British writs of assistance and has destroyed Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
President Obama’s expansive embrace of President George W. Bush’s radical use of presidential powers has given bipartisan sanction to massive violations of sacred rights we believed were guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Pause and think how, and against whom, the current candidates for U.S. president would use and abuse such unchecked powers?
Our Duty, Our Liberty
In 1962, at an Ohio re-election rally for my good friend, the late Congressman John Ashbrook, I first heard Ronald Reagan give “The Speech” entitled: “A Time for Choosing.”
Citing Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Reagan observed: “The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been 200 years.” When Reagan uttered those words, America had yet to celebrate its 200th birthday.
If we are to avoid that fate, our country as a whole, the American people together, must unite forcefully to reassert the hard-won liberty and freedom we celebrate on this Fourth of July.
In a letter written from Paris on November 13, 1787, Jefferson foresaw America’s current grim situation. He asked: “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
This task of renewal should be our personal task — yours and mine — as America begins the 240th year of our independence. We should pray it is not too late for us to reclaim and reassert the precious rights for which so many gave their last full measure of devotion.
May we as a people have the strength and will to change our course — and may a merciful God bless America — now more than ever.
Yours for liberty,
Bob Bauman JD
Chairman, Freedom Alliance