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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Independence: Declaration and Perpetuation*

"The Declaration of Independence
by John Trumbull
The U.S. National Archives

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
July 3, 2011
as "Independence Day: A celebration for us all"
On a hot July day in 1776, a document was approved by the representative congress of an upstart group of colonies; a document boldly declaring to the world that they were now a separate nation.

The Declaration of Independence represented the height of temerity, and possibly folly, since the document’s target was only the most powerful empire on planet earth at the time.

The document opened with a strong and forthright statement:

“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."

Few governments at that time had ever been based on such fundamental human rights and trust in its citizens.  The Declaration went even further, stating:

"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

In that statement the United States placed the power of their government, not in the leaders, but squarely in the hands of the people.  Thus, ordinary Americans would always be the ultimate check-and-balance of their leaders.

At the end of the long list of complaints against the King, America took its stand:
"We, therefore the Representatives of the United States of America
do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies,
solemnly publish and declare,
That these united colonies are, and of Right
ought to be Free and Independent States."

They could have left it there.  But they then placed their own necks in the proverbial noose of responsibility:

"And for the support of this Declaration,
With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,
We mutually pledge to each other
Our lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor."

Each member of that congress signed their names at the bottom of the document, fully aware that if their nascent revolution failed, it meant their immediate execution.

The modern view that most Americans have of that era is for the most part a singularly clueless one.  We look at the old paintings and conclude that a group of landed gentlemen gathered, held some warm, collegial discussions, and in total harmony produced a nation.

In fact, the issues were deep and divisive.  Many saw only disaster in running from the umbrella of Great Britain.  On the other side were those who were incensed that the British would try to balance its over-extended budget on the backs of Americans through exorbitant taxation.  (Sound familiar?) 

The war for that freedom never had enough soldiers, or arms, or even shoes.  The grandiosely-named Continental Army seemed constantly on the verge of defeat.  It’s commanding general had to constantly plead with the new state legislators for additional troops, and even simple things like blankets in the middle of winter.

There were other arguments, such as the nature of the relationship between the federal government and the states.  John Adams’ feared that the title “President of the United States” wouldn’t carry sufficient prestige among the European monarchies, a titular pretentiousness soundly rejected by George Washington.

Speaking of whom, what would you think about a sitting President who would leave the capital to lead an army in the field to enforce federal tax laws?  George did exactly that during the Whiskey Rebellion.

Today, some 235 years after that declaration, we’d like to think of our government as a settled matter.  In truth, this experiment is still evolving.  We still argue over basic issues of governance and laws. 

The important thing is that questions are still being asked; answers are still sought.  Every age brings unique challenges that can only be met by a nimble and adventurous citizenry in these swiftly changing times, choosing leaders willing to listen.

Criticism has been made easy in this target-rich environment.  But on this July 4th, perhaps we should all take a step back from the vitriol, and instead take an appreciative look at the path this nation has trod.  Yes, we have problems; yes, we have deep political disagreements.  But then, we’ve always had them…and yet we’re still a country because within us is that singular capacity for unity, although sometimes it takes a 9/11 for us to remember.

This is not just a birthday of a government, or even a nation.  It is a celebration for us, her citizens as well.  We Americans have created something pretty special.

Let’s work together to keep it alive.
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