“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another...a descent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
So begins the Declaration of Independence, one of the most recognizable documents in American history. Most Americans can recite the “unalienable rights” of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” but, unfortunately, many have a hard time putting the document in context or applying it to today’s government.
After the preamble, the Declaration explains the authors’ beliefs in what “all men” are entitled to, what is necessary for these entitlements, and how much typical “men” will put up with. The forgotten section (and arguably the most important section in relation to the present) of the Declaration comes next – the list of grievances.
1776 was a transitional year in the colonists’ fight for their rights. In January, Common Sense, a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine, was published and circulated widely around the colonies. Paine argued that their fight was not with Parliament, as it had been for the previous decade, but with the King. Parliament was elected by the People while a king’s claim to the throne was hereditary. Paine, again in Enlightenment fashion, argued that mankind was not supposed to be ruled by a king. A king was merely a tyrant and violated the unwritten Social Contract between ruler and ruled. Common Sense circulated widely throughout the colonies with 100,000 copies sold in just the first three months after it was published. Without Common Sense, it is hard to imagine how Jefferson et. al. could have convinced the other colonists to get behind their document on July 4, 1776.
The grievances, then, solely target the king. It is here that we get a sense of why the colonists felt the need to separate from their motherland. These grievances are quite extensive because, as Jefferson explains in the previous section, “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light or 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 of which they are accustomed.” In other words, we’ll put up with a lot of crap when we get comfortable with our way of life. Sadly, when put in context, many of these grievances can be applied to the United States government today. Here are a few examples.
“He has refused to Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”
In 21st century America, laws are so numerous that it is difficult to keep track of them all. However, there have been sensible bills that have been suggested or introduced which will never see the light of day. The are two that come to mind immediately. Representative Tom Marino (PA) introduced the One Subject at a Time Act which, as the title suggests, would require future bills to be limited to one subject - no more farm subsidies amendments in a defense spending bill, for instance. The other bill which will never pass because of lobbying money is a bill which would require all genetically modified foods to be labeled. Both these suggests seem “wholesome...for the public good” yet Congress refuses to recognize them as important topics.
“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”
When George Washington was elected president, he selected a cabinet that consisted of four members: the Secretary of State was to handle international relations, the Secretary of War was nominated to manage the military, the Secretary of the Treasury watched the money, and the Attorney General was the president’s legal consultant. Today the cabinet consists of 15 departments all of which manage various agencies. These new offices (TSA, IRS, FBI, NSA, CIA, etc.) have “swarms” of officers all over the nation who have been accused of spying on Americans, subverting political causes through agentprovocateurs, framing suspects, molesting travelers, and even druggingunsuspecting suspects.
“For protecting them [soldiers], by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States.”
If you take an honest look at today’s justice system you will realize how many innocent people are in jail and how many complete crooks have bought their way out of jail or have been punished by being sent to one of those nice white collar, resort prisons.
“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
We the People have tried over and over again to push for reform. Some reforms have been achieved, however, there are many reforms that Americans are demanding today and the avenues for said reform have been closing. Petitions and emails/phone calls to “our” representatives are summarily ignored or rejected. Voting in the two party system is ludicrous as there is very little difference between the Republicans and Democrats. Protests are thwarted by sound cannons, pepper spray, or sometimes more extreme measures. Political groups that shake the status quo are subverted by agents provacateurs. Our repeated petitions have been met with repeated injury.
So what do we do? Is it time to re-declare our independence? Are these evils sufferable or is it a case of pop culture distractions? If so, when will the evil become insufferable?