I've struggled mightily over what to write regarding Independence Day, the "birthday" of the United States. Over the years, my view of it has changed from youthful jingoism, fireworks and cook-outs to a more jaundiced, reflective perspective tempered by my own experience and the actions of our government. Is this a day to celebrate or to mourn ? Participate in or ignore ? Like most things in life, I will attempt to take the middle path.
First, things to celebrate. The Declaration of Independence is one of the most radical documents ever written. We have become used to it over the years of school instruction and take it for granted without really recognizing how earth shattering it was. It symbolized a radical break with the past and the way in which governments had ruled to that point. In a world of despotic monarchies and "constitutional" monarchies, the Declaration was like a cannon shot. Not only did it spell out the individual rights of all men, it laid out a concise case against the King of England and the reasons that a break with his Empire was required.
The Declaration also presented a semi-anarchist view that government was created by the consent of the citizenry who retained the right to abolish it by revolution should it become abusive in its powers-
"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."
Even over 233 years later, those words seem to jump off the page and hit you right between the eyes. Unfortunately, the average citizen of this country is blisffully unaware of the power that they hold. Better to buy a new IPod or flatscreen television than recognize that our individual liberties are slowly bleeding away. Now contrast these words against what the United States has become centuries after they were written and we have reasons to mourn.
The signatories of the Declaration would be horrified by what the government of the United States has become. Deeply in debt, it has traded the economic future of our grandchildren for political gain and expedience. It has curtailed our rights as free men and women, monitoring our speech and travel, eroding our protections against unlawful search and seizure and right to arm ourselves as the ultimate insurance policy against despotism. It has imposed a system of confiscatory taxes at every turn in our lives- our income, what we buy, what we sell, our property and even our estates when we die, it seizes our property under the auspices of eminent domain, and enforces its rules with the barrel of a gun. It has grown completely beyond what our founders intended and has become a monster of regulatory agencies and entrenched bureaucracies.
No wonder so many 4th of July celebrations are focused on what America once was.
I'll celebrate the 4th of July with a small "c" this year, like marking the birthday of an old friend that isn't around anymore- and probably is never coming back.