Down the street they march, as they have marched for almost 250 years, their red, white and blue waving proudly for all to see. Families line the roadway, cheering loudly as their favorite fire trucks and organized groups roll on by. Little ones, having on idea what nationhood means and certainly have no idea who King George III was at all, smile as they wave their grand ol’ flags and relish the ice cream being handed out by the parade marchers.
There is such revelry and so much joy celebrating a document that most historians and teachers will never show their students beyond the preamble. A document that was and is so revolutionary that it is almost never shown or studied beyond its existence being mentioned as the words that incited a war.
And not just any war. A war of one people trying to throw off the chains of another. In this case, the chains are a long list of grievances against a leader who is so far away and so out of touch with the reality of the people whom he is supposed to govern. The people suffer unjustly under his rule, finally breaking in the spring of 1776 as King George sends a massive British war fleet of 30 ships, 30,000 soldiers and 10,000 sailors to retake the shipping ports that had been closed to them.
Americans, a term that was only just developing, wanted freedom over their own governmental bodies and the right to choose with whom they align their futures. The colonials wanted the right to create good laws that were relevant to the people which were governed by them, not arbitrary ones created by an old white man (well he was almost 40) locked away in his palace thousands of miles across the ocean. After years of British rule, the colonists had decided that they were deserving of self-rule and that governments should be deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
By 1776, almost every European kingdom had spent the past 300 years collecting colonies like they were Pokemon. With exploration came the Age of Discovery and the exploitation of just about every population available to the British, the Spanish, the French and any other European country that could muster a military group large enough to subdue another. Exploration wasn’t about exploring brave new worlds and new civilizations, it was about exploiting those worlds and people and solidifying their rule over their own people.
It is here that we discover the concept of nation state and the concept of sovereignty of one nation over another. The British deserved colonists, because they were the better, stronger and had better theories of law than the Spanish, and certainly better than the people over whom they ruled. While peoples have been slaughtering each other for centuries, it is only with the expansion of colonialism that we begin to develop a sense of our group of people as defined by laws: that wholly evil concept that my nation is better than your nation.
Oftentimes, it is through adversity and fear of the other that unifies a group of people to dominate another. Until such time 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 the powers of the earth and that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.
Yes, we can certainly argue that at the time, all men are created equal applied only to white men of European descent and in a later section they refer to the native peoples as merciless savages, but this is still a stunning statement within the class system of the British monarchy. Serfs are not the same as a king. Colonists are not the same as a gently bred Lord of London. If we take the document within the historical context in which it was written, this is stunning.
- All men are equal
- They have inalienable rights and
- They can only be governed by their consent.
Here, my friends, is why this document sits quietly in the halls of independence rather than a living, breathing example of the world. This document is treasonous, violent and a blueprint for political revolution not to mention that it contains theories of equality and liberty better left kept hidden. No government, anywhere, wants their citizens (or subservient peoples) to actually read these complaints and use them to incite their own rebellions.
And so we have this beautiful, and certainly flawed, document. All because a group of people were willing to risk everything to join together to mutually pledge to each other their Lives, their Fortunes and their Sacred Honor. Words can topple governments, my friends. Indeed, it’s the only thing that really ever has.