Celebrating independence in an age of dependence

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence with fireworks and picnics.

But there is another day worthy of a passing mention. That is July 6, the day the declaration was first reprinted on the front page of The Pennsylvania Evening Post. In the following weeks, by order of Congress, at least 30 newspapers reprinted the Declaration of Independence, spreading its simple words and its audacious act of treason against the crown. It was a document for the people, carried to the people by the press.

At the time, the colonies were under virtual blockade and the American Army was vastly outnumbered and often in retreat.

Franklin, Adams and Jefferson

Librarian Robin Shields recounts that when the Boston Gazette published the declaration it carried next to it an advertisement: “Cash given for clean Cotton and Linen RAGS, at the Printing-Office in Watertown.” Most paper was imported from England, and the printer was seeking rags with which to make paper.

In a letter to Congress on July 9, Gen. George Washington reported how his troops were to mark the news of the Declaration of Independence: “The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at Six O’Clock, when the declaration of Congress, shewing the grounds and reasons of this measure, is to be read with an audible voice.”

In a letter the next day he reported that British deserters were telling him a fleet with massive reinforcements was expected to arrive in New York any day. The situation was dire.

It was in this setting of uncertainty and imminent danger that our founding document was penned. How it fell to 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson to pen the first draft is a matter of some dispute, but I prefer the recollection of chief independence protagonist John Adams.

Years later, Adams recalled that he insisted Jefferson should write it, and Jefferson replied, “Why?”

“Reasons enough,” answered Adams.

“What can be your reasons?”

So Adams bluntly stated, “Reason first: you are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second: I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third: You can write ten times better than I can.”

Most of which, of course, was nonsense.

Jefferson borrowed liberally from the great minds of the day, unabashedly paraphrasing George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights: “That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

Jefferson edited it to the more succinct “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In 1825, in a letter to fellow Virginian Henry Lee, Jefferson looked back on those days and his role in writing the founding document. He recalled his motivation and purpose:

“When forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of … (but) to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind …”

Today 65 percent of Americans live in a household in which someone receives a monthly check from the government. Federal regulations cost $2 trillion a year. Entitlement programs are going broke. Debt is ballooning. Foreign powers neither trust nor fear us. Morality and ethics are situational. The government enforces only those laws it wishes to enforce. Politicians lie, cheat and steal without fear of facing any consequences. The media are largely toothless and growing weaker.

Even when the voters revolt and elect people they think are fiscal conservatives, the elected officials raise taxes and do nothing to rein in runaway spending on government programs and employee pay and benefits.

At the time of the Revolution, it is estimated the typical tax burden — with or without representation — was 20 cents per capita per year at a time when annual earnings were somewhere between $60 and $100. Today the total tax burden is more than 40 percent.

I wonder whether we have lost that American mind-set that Jefferson cherished. How many of us are still willing for the sake of true liberty to pledge “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor”?

Even the meaning of the word liberty has changed from an inalienable right to something granted by the all-powerful government.

“The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built. Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty. Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a
“liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect. Along the way, it rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government. This distortion of our Constitution not only ignores the text, it inverts the relationship between the individual and the state in
our Republic. I cannot agree with it,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent of a Supreme Court ruling granting the “right” to gay marriage.

We’ve strayed far since 1776.

This first appeared in 2015.

8 comments on “Celebrating independence in an age of dependence

  1. Bill says:

    Well done Thomas. Good piece that I agree with whole heartily.

  2. You know, I think a good argument can be made that Roe v. Wade was the right thing to do, but it was definitely the wrong way to do it.

  3. NYPete says:

    How appropriate that this essay on “liberty” supports the denial of the right of gay Americans to marry.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s always easier to speak about “liberty” and how grand it is, than to ensure it in real life.

    Jefferson is but one example of a man that made eloquent speeches and wrote about it, even if, as we all know, he didn’t exactly practice it in his own life.

    And all people, from time immemorial I think, have desired, or at least expressed the desire, to live unencumbered by restrictions on their ability to do what they wanted when they wanted. That was not a new concept to the founders of this country instead it was one ingrained deeply into all humans from the time they started walking the earth.

    The problem has always been how far a person can go before they’re actions and expressions of things they’d like to do, start to interfere with the thoughts and actions of other individuals who have opposing or even the same desires. The line of liberty is constantly shifting and as the world gets smaller and smaller, and the impact an individual has on the world grows larger and larger, the line moves to a point ever closer to every individuals “nose”.

    It’s also no surprise that many people see “government” as a major impediment to their individual desires. In the history of the world, a government has almost always been more powerful than the most powerful individual and are therefore uniquely positioned to “interfere” with the desires of men to do what they want, when they want. And this is not always a bad thing.

    The founders of this country understood though that this interference was necessary, and yes, desire able for many reasons. First and foremost, they understood that a strong, central government, with broad powers necessary to ensure the survival of the country was all that stood against the force that could be brought to bear against our citizens by other countries that had even much less regard for liberty than any citizen in this country thought justified. In fact, the founders understood this so well, that the prior governing “law” for the government was understood as too weak to ensure these goals, and so a Constitution that gave more powers to the federal government was needed. Of course, to someone that blanches at the most minimal “interference” with their liberty, even the Constitution seemed outrageous and oppressive.

    It is easy of course, as so many do today, to blast our “government” as some sort of “just this side” of tyranny and gnash their teeth and wail about how “wise” the founders were, and how far we have strayed from their virtuous calls for “liberty”. But do they so easily forget that the founders did away with the Articles of Confederation because they knew a strong central government was needed? One that allowed the federal government broad MPLIED powers along with the ability to directly tax the citizens of the country.

    And oh Jefferson. So flowery he was with his talk of liberty and limited government right? Well I wonder what sort of word might be used to describe a man today that talked of “liberty for all” that secretly kept a couple slaves at his house? I wonder what might be thought of a presidential candidate that, while preaching about our limited government, went off as Jefferson did, and increased the size of the country, with a seizure of power nowhere discussed in the Constitution, the way Jefferson?

    It’s just absurd, in the extreme, to think for a moment that this country has grown from a few million citizens, to more than 300 million, and that somehow, someway, the fictitious “liberty” that idealist would like to believe existed in 1787 could even possibly exist today.

    We are an incredibly BETTER country today than we were when we started. Smarter, healthier, stronger, and yes, we more equality and liberty than “we” were as a country back then.

    That is worth celebrating on the 4th of July.

    *Reprinted from an earlier response to this article

  5. Athos says:

    Sooo, the Patrick of yesteryear is now the anny of today. Interesting. Anny, it is impossible to read your posts without seeing how clearly you hate this country and our history, and wish to squash any that oppose your twisted view. You’re only hope is for us to “Shut Up”, because your reasoning is steeped in this dark hatred of all that makes America the GOAT.

    You fail to understand that great men are just that…. they’re men. Fallible, feet of clay and tempted with all the temptations this world has to offer. Jefferson studied the great minds of history in a way few today could (or would) attempt to do. And what he penned, in the Declaration of Independence was priceless (and a conglomerate of like minded individuals like George Mason of Virginia) and instrumental in our development as “that shining city upon a hill”

    You, on the other hand, and your ilk do nothing but destroy. What is your end purpose, Patrick? What will make you happy at the end of the day? Did you celebrate our 246th birthday today, or are among the 1619 Fable crowd?

    Tom, I thank you for reposting this. It’s not only a reminder but a challenge for us to consider what has been given us by our forefathers. The rot is indeed deep. The evil has set in for so long, it really does look hopeless. But the Supreme Court has cut off the left’s main instrument of enacting laws thru fiat. That is truly hopefully because there is no way the left can sell their phony baloney ideas by popular vote.

    So the question to each one of us on this momentous day is the age old question of man..Is there good in the world and is it worth fighting for? (paraphrasing LOTR movie quote, but that was one very moving scene – Sam Gamgee to Frodo Baggins) https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-iry-fullyhosted_011&ei=UTF-8&hsimp=yhs-fullyhosted_011&hspart=iry&param1=yhsbeacon&param2=f%3D4%26b%3DSafari%26cc%3DUS%26pa%3Dmcyahoo%26cd%3D2XzuyEtN2Y1L1QzutDyCzz1R1TtA1O1Pzz1O1P1PyE1O1QyD1O1Tzy1PyD1RtAtCyE1SyB1RtDyEyEtAtD1OyB1TzztD1OzytN1L1G1B1V1N2Y1L1Qzu2StCyE0F0FtCyC0BzytGtDzz0C0CtGyE0F0F0AtGzyyD0FyEtGyDtDtC0D0C0BtCyEyEyEzz0B2QtN1Q2Zzu0StByCzytBtN1L2XzutAtFyCtFtCtBtFtCtN1L1CzutN1T1IzuyEtN1B2Z1V1T1S1Nzu%26cr%3D531169918%26a%3Dmcx_me3579bdfpyzsegikmoq6vy_19_20_ssg0217&p=LOTR+tale+of+2+towers+Sam+to+Frodo+There%27s+good+in+the+world+and+its+worth+fighting+for&type=mcx_me3579bdfpyzsegikmoq6vy_19_20_ssg0217#id=1&vid=61aec6c53b4f8374bf449bc2d339236d&action=click

  6. Rincon says:

    You’re in a glass house, Athos. Anonymous’ post was not hateful, but your response was, as is so often the case.

  7. Athos says:

    Rinny! Back from the abyss! Where ya been, man? Of COURSE, patrick hates this country. Let’s disparage one of our top Founding Fathers and the man that wrote our Declaration of Independence because heaven knows we can’t have any of that National Pride for America, can we?

    But maybe I should give patrick the benefit of the doubt? Maybe he simply forgot that these men (Jefferson included) pledged “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” thus condemning them to death if we didn’t succeed? Maybe he didn’t read Tom’s blog article?

    Oh, I’m sorry Rinny. Was that hateful? Some would think that speaking the truth to enemies of America was patriotic. I’ve noticed that there is nothing he’s refuting, is there?

    Wonder why that is, Rin old boy? (Isn’t telling someone to Shut Up, a hateful act? No?)

  8. Athos says:

    And still no comment from the Rin man. Or from Patrick! No need to cower in shame, fellas. I’m a reasonable man. I would love to know just what in the dickens is Brandon and Co up to? Where ARE they taking our country (from your perspective) cause it sure looks like nowhere good from mine.

    petey, feel free to weigh in, also?

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