Independence Day…Some Thoughts

2011 July 2

by Roy W. Bakos

 

The rise of the Tea Party on the right wing of the American political spectrum gives us all an opportunity to look back at our Founders and the Document that they started writing on this day in 1776, The Declaration of Independence.

“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…”

Over the last 235 years, we have had many arguments about what these words (as well as the words that would later become the law of the land in 1787 when the US Constitution was adopted by our nascent Republic) mean.  At first, “men” meant only men but that has grown in scope to mean people in the broadest sense of the word.  The ideas of what constitutes “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” have grown to encompass activities and technologies that our forefathers could not have imagined…well, maybe Franklin could have imagined them but I digress.

While all of that stuff is indeed important, the part of Mr. Jefferson’s writing that most impresses and defines what sets us apart from the rest of the world up unto that point in time is the second half of the quote, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  I know we have heard it a thousand times over and that many of us don’t believe it to be as true today as it was then but this is the central part of what being an American is all about.  We live in a place that is essentially governed by, of, and for the people.  We are the government and the government is us.  We are responsible for cleaning things up when they get messy.  We are responsible for pushing things forward.  We are responsible for bridging our differences, in both the social and the political arenas, to make sure that our government serves us.  The people.  All of us.  Equally and fairly.

It is easy for those on the left to make the argument that things were better in previous days and that we are fools for believing the “self-eveident truth” above because we are ruled by a corporatist-kleptocratic-military-industrial-complex.  It is just as easy for those on the right to argue that we are ruled by an untenable bureaucracy that ignores the will of the governed and the rules of finance.  This is no different than the way it was in 1890 or in 1790.  In fact, it is this very tension in the forces that creep into our system which produce the citizen action that produces lasting change.  It took a Civil War to settle the Slavery and 3/5th issues dodged by our founders.  It took the Progressive Movement of the 1890’s to early 1900’s and the New Deal to regulate the business interests that sought to control our destiny.   The Civil Rights movement led to equality for all and the expansion of the legal definition of  the words “men” and “people” to mean all citizens regardless of their race, class, economic status, gender, age, or sexual orientation.

This fight to live up to the promise of Mr. Jefferson and his compatriots is the history of our nation.  It is what makes us strong.  It is what makes us American.  It is why so many have risked their lives and limbs and sacred honor.  Independence; not only from Britain but from any system that doesn’t recognize the basic human right to rule your own destiny.  This is who we are and this is what we celebrate every July 4th.  Now someone get me a vodka and get some more Polish sausages on the grill…

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