Tag Archives: declaration of independence

July 4th: Picnics and Fireworks

The Declaration of Independence is the foundation document for everything American.

I was sitting in my office last night (July 4), listening to the whistles, booms and bangs of fireworks going off in every direction around the neighborhood. I could not help but wonder how many of the revelers were celebrating the 234th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and how many were celebrating the extra day off from work and the opportunity to set off illegal fireworks without having to worry about being arrested.

It had been a long weekend, with my grand daughter’s wedding on Saturday and Church Services, a picnic and Fourth of July celebration on Sunday, so I really was not in the mood for any deep thinking. However, I did think about a couple of comments I had read or heard on the Internet, radio or TV — I don’t remember which— concerning the Declaration of Independence.

One person was trying to make a point using a quote from the Declaration of Independence, and the other was reminding him that the Declaration was not law. I also heard a radio show a day or so earlier, where a young man was sent out on the streets of Seattle to find out how much the public knew abut Independence Day. Only four out of ten people interviewed knew that the Fourth of July was the celebration of our Independence from Great Britain in 1776.

It seems to me, the Declaration of Independence does not enjoy the place in America’s consciousness it deserves. Few of us recognize that it is the foundation of our Constitution and our form of government. On July 4, 1776, the thirteen colonies became thirteen free, independent and sovereign countries or nation states. The Declaration of Independence declares,

“That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”

The word “united” here refers to their united stand in favor of Independence and their determined resistance to the British Crown. They did not have a united, constituted government until 1781. After declaring Independence, the colonies formed a loose confederation under the Articles of Confederation for mutual defense, keeping the principle of independent and sovereign states set forth in the Declaration. When the Philadelphia Convention met in 1787 for the purpose of amending the Articles to make them more effective and enduring as a governing document, they again kept this fundamental principle of state sovereignty and incorporated it into the Constitution.

The Declaration of Independence serves as the introduction to both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. The Constitution does not introduce any new principles. It simply acknowledges and codifies the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence; sovereignty of the people, sovereignty of the states, equality of birth, and the unalienable rights of life and liberty, are all principles found in the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution incorporates these principles and enshrines them in its seven Articles and the ten Amendments making up the Bill of Rights.

The states did not give up the principle of state sovereignty when they ratified the Constitution. Instead, they emphasized it with the Tenth Amendment, locking into place the limits imposed on the federal government by Section Eight of Article I in the Constitution. Few decisions in history have contributed more to the chaos and dilemmas found in today’s government, than the deliberate, incremental decisions to usurp state sovereignty and meld the states into the consolidated national government we have today. Unless stopped, the federal government will continue to consolidate and build its power until the American people are transformed into subjects, and no longer liberated citizens of a free state.

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The Counter-Revolution of 2010

“…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.”
~Declaration of Independence

The year 2009 in America marked the beginning of a counter-revolution against the 100-year revolution launched by the socialists during the progressive era. After a century of creeping socialism and dwindling liberty, the American people have finally had enough.  They are expressing themselves in a “grassroots” patriot uprising unmatched in modern American history.  The 2010 counter-revolution is not taking place with guns and bullets, but with signs, e-mails, faxes, and telephones. It is taking place in the cities and towns of America, not with rioting and violence, but with peaceful patriot protests at town hall meetings, tea parties, and at the polls in one election after another.

There is no doubt the patriots are winning. However, there is a chance that they will also  succeed in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. How?  By splitting into competing factions and allowing their leaders to do their thinking for them.  In the quote above from the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson reminds us that it is “the right of the people” to abolish or alter their government and to reorganize it “as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness”.

The genius of America is its system of self-government.  Our system differs from the systems used elsewhere in the People’s Republics of Socialistic Fantasylands.  Here, the system works when citizens, knowlegable in our founding principles, thinking for themselves, and following the dictates of their own informed self-interest, demand of those to whom they have delegated the responsibility of managing the affairs of government, that they stay true to the job description set forth in our governing plan, the Constitution. The system breaks down when we begin to form into factions and start blindly following the dictates of our leaders.

The “Tea Party Movement” (I prefer to call it a Patriot Movement) is a true spontaneous, grassroots movement.  That is the basis of its strength. As with any mass movement, there will be those who, for monetary or egoistic reasons, attempt to “get in front of the parade” and declare themselves “leader”. George Washington warned us of this tendency in political affairs in his Farewell Address.

There is strength in numbers; therefore, membership is valuable to any organization.  However, when organizations become too big they sometimes loose sight of their purpose and begin to view their sister organizations as competitors rather than fellow laborers in a common cause; the membership becomes complacent and depends on others to “carry the load”. Occasionally leaders of these groups, in their quest for fame and power, will demonize their competitors in order to build their own membership and discourage others.

We are starting to see patriot groups coalescing into national organizations. There is even some talk about becoming a third party and fielding candidates in competition with the established parties. If we go down that road we stand to lose our effectiveness as opposition groups and strengthen the influence of those who wish to destroy our historical system of government and take away our liberty. It is up to each of us as individuals to maintain our own independence of thought and conscience as we work cooperatively with other patriots to take back our party and our country.

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An Expression of the American Mind

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Introduction to Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence is a unique document in world history.  It is the Declaration that provides the foundation for our form of government.  In it we find the primary principles on which the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are based, natural rights and the sovereignty of the people.  It also declares the only legitimate purpose of government.

The Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776 by the second Continental Congress whose initial purpose had been to explore ways to restore the relationship with Great Britain.  Independence was not universally desired by the colonists.  Historians estimate that only about forty percent of the people were in favor of independence at the time.  A large number of colonists were still loyal to England, even after the outbreak of war, and between thirty and forty percent struggled to remain neutral.

By the time the Congress convened in 1775, hope for reconciliation with England had all but disappeared.  The second Congress met in May, less than a month after the battles of Lexington and Concord in which fifty colonists were killed and thirty-nine wounded.  The British losses were sixty-five killed, 180 wounded and twenty-seven missing.  Benjamin Franklin had just returned from London where he had been sent by the First Congress in an attempt at reconciliation between Great Britain and the Colonies.  At the same time Thomas Jefferson was promoting a plan for America to be governed by King George III with an independent legislature in the colonies.

Soon after the second Congress convened, Peyton Randolph, President of the first Congress and reelected as President of the second was called back to Virginia for a meeting of the Virginia Assembly of which he was the Speaker.  Thomas Jefferson was sent to Philadelphia as his replacement, arriving on June 21.  With the Departure of Randolph, John Hancock was elected as President.  Hancock, along with Samuel Adams, both of Boston and generally considered to be the instigators of the Boston Tea Party, were strong advocates for independence.

The arguments of Hancock and Adams for a declaration of independence finally prevailed as being necessary in order to secure aid from other European nations like France and Holland. A committee consisting of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston and Thomas Jefferson was appointed to prepare a declaration of independence.  The committee assigned the task of writing the document to Thomas Jefferson.

Near the end of his life, Jefferson, responding to a controversy seemingly originating with John Adams concerning the originality of the ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence explained his purpose in drafting the document.

“This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and 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, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.”
~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Richard Henry Lee, May 8, 1825

There can be no doubt that he succeeded in his mission, for in the two-hundred words of the second paragraph he encapsulates, not only an “expression of the American mind” but an expression of its heart and spirit as well.

“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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

The ideals expressed in these words not only provides the justification for America’s independence and sovereignty, but the principles on which the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are based.  From these ideals the most prosperous nation in history was established and has endured for over two-hundred years.

Throughout its history, America has been a haven of liberty for the oppressed throughout the world.  During the last half of the twentieth century, the principles established in the Declaration of Independence has been increasingly ignored.  With the election of Barack Obama to the office of President and the sharp turn away from the principles of liberty and the rule of law to the principles of statism and autocracy, the traditional role and character of America as the last bastion of liberty and prosperity is under the threat of extinction.

Obama's Flawed Constitution

liberty-bellPresident Obama has expressed, on several occasions, his belief that the Constitution is a flawed document.  He has also indicated a primary goal of his administration is to change the way things are done in America to match the principles on which he believes the nation was founded.  Millions of Americans cheer his efforts, believing they will make their lives easier and more rewarding.  Since more than sixty percent of Americans approve of his job performance after four months in office, pursuing his goal to remake America, it is important to understand just what the founding principles of our nation really are.

We will not find a definition of those principles in the Constitution although we do find examples of them.  At the same time, we find several places where the Constitution seems to contradict those principles.  The Constitution is a political document.  As such, it reflects compromises on issues that many of the framers did not agree on. The two most important were those between the federalists and the republicans and between the slave holding states and the anti-slave states.

The founding documents of America are actually three distinct documents written at different times and for different purposes.  They are The Declaration of Independence (1776), The Constitution (1787) and The Bill of Rights (1789).

The Declaration of Independence, often referred to as the nation’s charter, was based on a republican philosophy and contains the founding principles for our form of government.  The first principle is that a legitimate government receives its powers from the people.  The second is that all men are created equal. The third principle is that of unalienable rights endowed by God, not granted by government.  The fourth is that the only purpose of government is to protect those rights in a secure and stable civil society.

During the Revolutionary War, a Federation of the thirteen states was formed to carry out the war and perform other functions of a national nature, under the Articles of Confederation.  The Federation had no taxing powers, no means of regulating commerce between the states, and no mechanism for enforcing laws passed by the Congress.  The Articles of Confederation proved inadequate as a blueprint for governance, and the states authorized a convention in 1787 for the purpose of amending the Articles to correct many of the defects.

The Convention, meeting at Philadelphia, was dominated by Federalists who wanted a strong central government with the states in a subordinate relationship to the federal government, much like the relationship between counties and towns to state governments.  The minority, known as the anti-federalists, was strongly opposed to the Constitution as written.  Fearing it gave too much power to the central government, they demanded a Bill of Rights.  Many of the Founding Fathers we revere today were on opposing sides in the debate.

Federalists Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and James Madison, among others, were strongly opposed to a Bill of Rights.  Federalist No. 84 by Hamilton was written in opposition, arguing that adding a list of specific rights guaranteed by the Constitution was not only unnecessary but dangerous to the welfare of the union.  Many of the strongest advocates for a Bill of Rights were not delegates to the Convention. Thomas Jefferson was in France on a diplomatic mission during the debates and unable to contribute personally.  However, in a letter to his friend James Madison he expressed a strong concern that the Constitution did not contain a bill of rights.  Patrick Henry, another strong anti-federalist refused to attend the Convention and therefore did not take part in the debates.

However, after the draft of the Constitution was presented to the states for ratification, Henry became one of the dominant leaders in the anti-federalist opposition along with Samuel Adams, and John Hancock of Boston.  Failing in their efforts to get a Bill of Rights included in the Constitution the anti-federalists worked diligently in their state legislatures to secure assurances that a Bill of Rights would be added as amendments to the Constitution as a condition of ratification.  In this, they succeeded.

The discord in the Philadelphia Convention can be seen by comparing the title of the Declaration with the signing statement of the Constitution.  The full title of the Declaration boldly proclaims it to be “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America”.  By comparison, the Constitution simply says in the last paragraph,

“Done in Convention by the unanimous consent of the states present the seventeenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven and of the independence of the United States of America the Twelfth in witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names.”

This ambiguous wording was drawn up by George Mason and presented by Benjamin Franklin as a way of encouraging delegates to sign the draft and maintain the impression of unanimity on their behalf.  Notice, it is the Convention itself, not the signing of the Constitution that claims the “unanimous consent”.  On the day of signing only 43 delegates representing twelve states were present, including George Washington, President of the Convention and William Jackson, Secretary.  Three of the forty-three delegates that were present refused to sign; hardly a unanimous agreement.

Five states ratified the Constitution shortly after it was presented to the states.  However, it bogged down in Massachusetts.  Only after Samuel Adams and John Hancock had negotiated “the Massachusetts Compromise”, did the Massachusetts Convention vote for ratification. The compromise, recommending amendments to be considered by the new Congress, should the Constitution go into effect allowed delegates to vote for ratification with the prospect of a Bill of Rights being added later.

The Adams-Hancock compromise probably saved the Constitution from certain defeat.  Other states followed their example in their ratifying conventions.  Without the Bill of Rights, there would be no basis in law to protect our rights and restrict the powers of Congress.  The Tenth Amendment is the cornerstone of our founding documents and the basis for the doctrine of “enumerated powers”.  Even with the addition of the Bill of Rights, there were still contradictions between the principles found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

These differences were not to be reconciled for another hundred years.  Only after the Civil War at a cost of more than 500,000 lives in battle and the addition of Amendments 13, 14 and 15, was the principle that “all men are created equal” recognized in the Constitution.  Today the Declaration and the Constitution, with its amendments, are in near perfect harmony. Unfortunately, from the beginning, the federal government has seemingly violated the letter and the spirit of the Constitution at will with little if any opposition from the people as a whole.

For the past seventy-five years we have witnessed the wholesale violation of the Constitution by Congresses, courts and Presidents, none more so that our current President and Congress.  When President Obama speaks of “perfecting” the Constitution or “remaking America” he is really talking about discarding the Constitution and tearing down all the traditions and customs that have made America great.

The warning uttered by Benjamin Franklin at the close of the Philadelphia Convention has an ominous ring to it today.

“Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.

Have the American people been so corrupted by the allure of socialism as to be incapable of any form of government other than despotism, as Franklin suggested?  The next few months and years will answer that question for many generations to come.

Tea Parties: What’s Next?

One thing was evident from the “Tea Parties” that took place all across the country on April 15.  The American people are waking up, and they do not like what has happened while they were dozing instead of maintaining the vigilance the Founders told us was indispensable to preserving our liberties.  Any patriots who watched the tea parties taking place on Fox News (there was no other place to watch) could not help but be encouraged and inspired by the hundreds of thousands of “ordinary citizens” who turned out.

Now that we are awake we need to stay awake, but we also need to be cautious as we move forward.  When a parade starts there are always those who are eager to step in front and lead, and if we do not know where we are going it is tempting to follow the most articulate and charismatic leader. There are a number of smaller movements starting to percolate within the larger conservative movement.  Some of these appear to be good; others raise red flags and need to be more carefully considered.

Some of these smaller movements include the state sovereignty movement, the third party movement, the fair tax movement, and even a call for a Constitution Convention.  We should be very cautious in considering a third party, or in a hasty support for the “Fair” tax.  It is always wise to take a closer look at anything with the word “Fair” in its title.  The natural question should be: For whom?

The movement to reinstate state sovereignty, on the other hand, is long overdue.  There are currently over twenty states whose legislatures have passed, or are in the process of considering resolutions to reaffirm the constitutional relationship between the federal and state governments.

Republican Governor Rick Perry of Texas crated a stir among the press when he made a statement at a tea party being held at the Austin City Hall on Wednesday.  In the statement he seemed to suggest Texas might consider seceding from the union if Washington continues on its present path.

“Texas is a unique place. When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that,” Perry said. “My hope is that America and Washington in particular pays attention. We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what may come of that.”

Is it likely Texas would try and secede from the Union?  Of course not.

Does it have a right to?  Definitely.

To deny the right of states to secede is to deny the assertion in the Declaration of Independence 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.”

There may come a day when such drastic action is necessary but that time is nowhere in the foreseeable future.  We do, however need to support the state sovereignty movement.  No other part of the Constitution is more critical to our liberty than the Tenth Amendment which locks in the doctrine of enumerated powers.

The Texas Legislature is considering a House Concurrent Resolution, HCR50, in support of State Sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment.  Governor Perry, at a press conference explains his support for the bill.

“I believe that our federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of our citizens, and its interference with the affairs of our state,” Gov. Perry said. “That is why I am here today to express my unwavering support for efforts all across our country to reaffirm the states’ rights affirmed by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I believe that returning to the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution and its essential 10th Amendment will free our state from undue regulations, and ultimately strengthen our Union.”

You can listen to his entire statement in the video below.

Read text of Resolution here.

Forgotten Patriots

liberty-bellEvery schoolchild knows the names, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison but few would recognize the names Arthur Fenner, Peleg Arnold or Aedanus Burke. Yet, it is more to the latter than the former to whom we own a debt of gratitude for the remaining liberties we enjoy today.

The foundation of our liberties rest on three documents; the Declaration of Independence that proclaims our status as a free and independent nation; the Constitution that established and empowered a new government; and the Bill of Rights that protects certain unalienable rights and sets the bounds of government beyond which it is not allowed to go.

Most of us erroneously assume that it is the Constitution that limits the scope of government and protects our rights.  It does not.  The Constitution empowers the government and enumerates the powers delegated to it by the people in Article 1, Section 8.  However, it does not specifically state the intent of the Framers that the government is limited to those powers.  History has shown that without that specificity, there is no limit to the powers government will assume for itself.

At the time the Constitution was written the federalists who crafted it assumed that the mere fact that the powers being delegated to the central government were listed would limit the government to those named and future governments would adhere to the wishes of the Founders.  This assumption on the part of the Framers became the number one obstacle to its quick ratification by the states.

Citizens, in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War were suspicious of a central government removed by distance from their close oversight.  Believing the Constitution, as written, did not adequately protect them from the expansive powers of government, they demanded a “Bill of Rights”.  Others feared that the new government would eventually become a “consolidated” government relegating the individual states to the status of provinces subject to the will of the central government instead of sovereign states.

The demand for a Bill of Rights by many of the states became the focus of contention between the federalists who supported the Constitution as written and the anti-federalist who opposed it. Federalist No. 84 by Alexander Hamilton was written in opposition to a Bill of Rights.  In it he argues,

“I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. … For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed?”

The debate between the federalists and the anti-federalists took place publicly in letters and essays published in newspapers throughout the states.  The writings of the federalists are preserved in the Federalist Papers and have enjoyed widespread circulation throughout our history.  The writings of the anti-federalists, which are just a numerous, have been neglected for the most part, except by historians and scholars.  Only recently, have they begun to be available to the general public on a widespread basis.

The most well-known anti-federalist was perhaps Patrick Henry who refused to attend the Constitutional Convention because he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward a monarchy.” Henry is considered to be one of the leaders of the anti-federalists.  Melancton Smith, Richard Henry Lee, George Mason and George Clinton are also well-known anti-federalists.

One of the most vocal was Arthur Fenner of Rhode Island.  Rhode Island was so opposed to the Constitution it refused to send delegates.  Fenner’s opposition to the Constitution was so popular with Rhode Islanders they elected him to the office of Governor in 1790 where he served until his death in 1805.  Rhode Island was the last of the thirteen states to ratify the Constitution.  The final vote was 34 to 32 in favor of ratification and came just three weeks after Fenner was named Governor.

Fenner and the other anti-federalist did not succeed in getting a Bill of Rights before the Constitution was ratified, but they did succeed in getting a promise that a Bill of Rights would be added by the first Congress.  True to its word, a Bill of Rights was introduced in the First Congress in 1789 by James Madison and ratified by the states in 1791.  Thomas Jefferson was one of the strongest supporters of a Bill of Rights although he was out of the country during the Philadelphia Convention and for much of the following debate concerning ratification.

It is to the Tenth Amendment in the Bill of Rights that we owe whatever restraints we have over the federal government.  Without the Tenth Amendment which says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”, we would, no doubt, have lapsed into tyranny generations ago.  It is this amendment that gives legal authority to the “enumerated powers” doctrine.

History and current events have shown that the forgotten patriots, known as the anti-federalists, who gave us the Bill of Rights, were well justified in their fears and reveals their wisdom and judgment to be equal to, if not superior to the federalist who gave us the Constitution. Even today, the statists who are, in many ways the philosophical descendents of the early federalist, continue to struggle against the Tenth Amendment.