“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.”
Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
Preparing for the Fourth of July holiday these days usually means planning what to do on your day off – which friends to invite for a barbeque, where to go for a picnic, or which fireworks show to attend. The kids have their own plans, chiefly concerned with talking their parents into the most dangerous-looking explosives available at the local “Safe and Sane” fireworks stand. I have a suggestion for those of you who may be looking for a slightly more meaningful way to spend the holiday. It involves taking a few minutes to stop and think about its true meaning. What actually happened on the Fourth of July, 1776 and what impact did it have on the world? What were the Founding Fathers planning for their new country? More importantly, what would they think if they could come back for a day and take a look at the nation they entrusted with carrying out their master plan?
I recently downloaded a copy of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights and put them into a Word document on my computer. According to the handy “Word Count” tool provided by Mr. Gates, these three documents together total less than 7,000 words, including the names and titles of the signatories. That’s about seven pages the size of the one you’re now reading. Although composed and written by educated men, these documents were designed to be simple enough for the majority of people to understand. In contrast, consider the U. S. Federal Tax Code, which contains more than 2.8 million words. Printed 60 lines to the page, it would fill almost 6,000 letter-size pages.
As part of the Fourth of July celebration at your house, I would suggest establishing a new tradition. Just as it’s become a tradition at many homes to read “The Night Before Christmas” aloud on Christmas Eve, why not read the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July? It contains several phrases that are very thought-provoking. Here are just a few examples:
“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Those radical men in the 1770s actually believed that people have the right to create their own governments, and that power flows from the people to the government instead of the other way around. Sounds like a dangerously radical concept!
“Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Ever heard the story about the frog and the cookpot? If you try to put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump right out. But if you put it into cool water and gradually raise the heat, it will paddle happily around until it’s boiled. The Fourth of July should provide us a great opportunity to consider our constitutional rights and how they have been gradually taken away over the years. What temperature has the water reached, fellow frogs, and at what point are we going to jump out and do something about the conditions to which we’ve become accustomed?
Here’s one of the grievances against the king listed by the signers of the Declaration: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.” How many layers of governmental bureaucracy do we now have to contend with, and how much of our hard-earned income goes to supporting them?
King George was also cited “For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments.” While our laws have not actually been abolished, 200 years of Supreme Court rulings have transformed how we actually apply the law of the land, so that we now struggle under a weirdly twisted version of the Constitution that has little respect for individual rights, or in some cases, common sense. The Founding Fathers’ ruling that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”(the First Amendment) somehow has been transformed into a doctrine of “separation of church and state,” which now forbids us from displaying the Ten Commandments in public places, letting our kids pray in school or having Nativity scenes in the public park at Christmas time (Oops! Maybe I need to say “Xmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa Time, but that would probably still be offending someone).
Want to download copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? Go to this Web site set up by the National Archives and Records Administration. It also has high-resolution photos of the original documents. Have a happy and meaningful holiday.