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 52 percent of Americans, a majority, receive some kind of government check. Federal regulations cost $2 trillion a year. Entitlement programs are going broke. Debt is ballooning. Foreign powers neither trust us or 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.

“Our Constitution — like the Declaration of Independence before it — was predicated on a simple truth: One’s liberty, not to mention one’s dignity, was something to be shielded from — not provided by — the State. Today’s decision casts that truth aside. In its haste to reach a desired result, the majority misapplies a clause focused on ‘due process’ to afford substantive rights, disregards the most plausible understanding of the ‘liberty’ protected by that clause, and distorts the principles on which this Nation was founded. Its decision will have inestimable consequences for our Constitution and our society,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the gay marriage ruling several years ago.

We’ve strayed far since 1776.

This first appeared in 2015.

Lest we forget during this holiday season what the stakes were one Christmas that changed history

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but “to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.”

— The Crisis by Thomas Paine, Dec. 23, 1776

George Washington and his tiny band of remaining soldiers did not shrink nor shirk. On Christmas, it was Victory or Death. (OK, it is a Newt Gingrich turn out the vote commercial from 2011, but the message still.)

How many today are giving up on the concept of liberty and letting the forces of overweening socialism change this nation forever into something the Founders did not intend, but rather feared and warned repeatedly against.

The stakes were life or death in 1776.

Paine concluded:

“Once more we are again collected and collecting; our new army at both ends of the continent is recruiting fast, and we shall be able to open the next campaign with sixty thousand men, well armed and clothed. This is our situation, and who will may know it. By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils — a ravaged country — a depopulated city — habitations without safety, and slavery without hope — our homes turned into barracks and bawdy-houses for Hessians, and a future race to provide for, whose fathers we shall doubt of. Look on this picture and weep over it! and if there yet remains one thoughtless wretch who believes it not, let him suffer it unlamented.”

Lest we forget.

First posted in 2012.

Washington crossing the Delaware.

Lest we forget during this holiday season what the stakes were one Christmas that changed history

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but “to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.”

— The Crisis by Thomas Paine, Dec. 23, 1776

George Washington and his tiny band of remaining soldiers did not shrink nor shirk. On Christmas, it was Victory or Death. (OK, it is a Newt Gingrich commercial from 2011, but still.)

How many today are giving up on the concept of liberty and letting the forces of overweening socialism change this nation forever into something the Founders did not intend, but rather feared and warned repeatedly against.

The stakes were life or death in 1776.

Paine concluded:

“Once more we are again collected and collecting; our new army at both ends of the continent is recruiting fast, and we shall be able to open the next campaign with sixty thousand men, well armed and clothed. This is our situation, and who will may know it. By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils — a ravaged country — a depopulated city — habitations without safety, and slavery without hope — our homes turned into barracks and bawdy-houses for Hessians, and a future race to provide for, whose fathers we shall doubt of. Look on this picture and weep over it! and if there yet remains one thoughtless wretch who believes it not, let him suffer it unlamented.”

Lest we forget.

First posted in 2012.

Washington crossing the Delaware.

Contrasting behavior today with this day in history

Washington at the Battle of Trenton

On this day in 1776 in freezing weather the Continental Army overwhelmed Hessian forces — still groggy from their Christmas imbibing — and captured the town Of Trenton, New Jersey.

The This Day in History website recounts:

Although the victory was minor from a strategic perspective, it bore tremendous significance for the future of the Continental Army. Washington needed a success before his solders’ enlistments expired on December 31 — without a dramatic upswing in morale, he was likely to lose the soldiers under his command and be unable to recruit new men to replace them. The victories at Trenton and a few days later at Princeton proved to the American public that their army was indeed capable of victory and worthy of support.

The image of ragged farm-boy Patriots defeating drunken foreign mercenaries has become ingrained in the American imagination. Then as now, Washington’s crossing and the Battle of Trenton were emblematic of the American Patriots’ surprising ability to overcome the tremendous odds they faced in challenging the wealthy and powerful British empire.

Today we celebrate the bravery of Mesquite theater goers who faced down the threat of having their iPhones hacked by a North Korean dictator in order to view a slapstick, l0w-brow comic movie, while million-dollar jet fighters bomb 13th century lunatics from 30,000 feet in the Middle East and our economic sanctions drive up the cost of bread in Moscow and our president unilaterally normalizes relations with a totalitarian regime in the Caribbean.

 

On this Presidents’ Day: A stark contrast

Obama spent Sunday golfing with Tiger Woods

Today, Feb. 18, Presidents’ Day, Barack Obama writes in the local newspaper about the need to create jobs and open manufacturing hubs, immigration reform and affordable higher education, the need to reduce the deficit and raise taxes on the rich, and:

“Finally, while all these steps are important, our first priority must be to protect our children and our communities from harm. Overwhelming majorities of Americans — Americans who believe in the Second Amendment — have come together around common-sense proposals like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. And these proposals deserve a vote in Congress.”

On Feb. 18, 1776, a future president, George Washington, wrote to the president of Congress from an encampment at Cambridge outside of Boston:

“True it is, and I cannot help acknowledging, that I have many disagreeable sensations on account of my situation; for, to have the eyes of the whole Continent fixed, with anxious expectation of hearing of some great event, and to be restrained in every military operation for want of the necessary means of carrying it on, is not very pleasing, especially as the means used to conceal my weakness, from the enemy, conceals it also from our friends, and adds to their wonder. I do not utter this by way of complaint. I am sensible that all that the Congress could do, they have done; and I should feel most powerfully the weight of conscious ingratitude, were I not to acknowledge this; but as we have accounts of the arrival of powder in Captain Mason, I would beg to have it sent on in the most expeditious manner, otherwise we not only lose all chance of the benefits resulting from the season, but of the Militia, which are brought in at a most enormous expense, upon a presumption that we should, long ere this, have been amply supplied with powder under the contracts entered into with the Committee of Congress. The Militia, contrary to an express requisition, are come, and coming in, without ammunition; to supply them alone with twenty-four rounds, which is less by three-fifths than the Regulars are served with, will take between fifty and sixty barrels of powder; and to complete the other troops, to the like quantity, will take near as much more, and leave in store not more than about sixty barrels, besides a few rounds of cannon-cartridges, ready filled, for use. This, sir, Congress may be assured is a true state of powder, and will, I hope, bear some testimony of my incapacity for action in such a way as may do any essential service.”