Happy Birthday, USA!

The 4th of July is always a good day to take a few minutes to read the document that gave birth to the USA by telling the King of England to shove it, the Declaration of Independence.

It’s easy to lose the meaning of this document with our distance in time and space to it. When I read it, the words “this has all happened before and it will all happen again” go through my mind.

For those who associate the words ‘declaration of independence’ with hot dogs and fireworks, rather than self-severing of political control from what would probably be considered today as a slightly oppressive and obstinate King, it’s good to put in perspective what the Declaration of Independence is.

The closest analogy that all of us experience in our lives is growing up, out from under the watchful decision-making of our parents, into adults where we are responsible for determining our own destiny and cleaning up our own messes.

Remember the arguments you had with your parents as teenagers? But, Mom, everybody else is going on that trip, why won’t you let me go? Dad, Why do I have to be home at 11? Can’t I stay out later?

Those were your struggles with your independence. In most of our cases, our parents were right and helped us avoid some pain. And, eventually, we earned our independence from our parents as we grew up because we either demonstrated good enough decision-making or our parents just got tired of bailing us out of our idiotic choices.

But, we all probably know friends where the parents didn’t hand over independence to their children so easily. These were the parents who ran their children’s lives for their own benefit, rather than the child’s. Their kids helped the parents recapture some of their lost dreams.

We see these friends struggle to gain their independence. This is what the U.S. struggled with. The oppressive parent that governed the colonies for its own benefit.

The next struggle for independence many folks experience is with their neighborhood Homeowners Association. It seems that the officer positions on those associations tend to attract the direct descendants of King George III, as we find out when we decide that we’d like to add some landscaping to our home and run up against the arbitrary and obstinate neighborhood review board for approval.

It’s worth getting past the first two paragraphs in the Declaration and reading the long list of complaints against the King laid out by the founders in the Declaration of Independence. Here are the first two:

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

The first two complaints are that the King had not allowed the states to pass their own laws without his approval, and he never gave approval.

For those among us who know a little about the birth of our country, we know that it had something to do with taxation without representation and the Boston Tea Party and all that. Indeed, that appears as the seventeenth complaint:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent

Before lighting your punks today, take 10 minutes and give a thoughtful read to the full text of the Declaration. It’s why you get the day off, after all.

Noonan Writes an Excellent Column for Independence Day

Today’s column from Peggy Noonan, A Cold Man’s Warm Words, would be an excellent column for everyone to read on Independence Day.    It’s the story of some of Thomas Jefferson’s words that didn’t make it to the final edit of the Declaration of Independence — the document and event we’ll all be celebrating this weekend with fireworks and flame-kissed brats.

In one of the most touching paragraphs, Noonan writes about “We might have been a free and great people together” being edited out of the Declaration of Independence:

“To write is to think, and to write well is to think well,” David McCullough once said in conversation. Jefferson was thinking of the abrupt end of old ties, of self-defining ties, and, I suspect, that the pain of this had to be acknowledged. It is one thing to declare the case for freedom, and to make a fiery denunciation of abusive, autocratic and high-handed governance. But it is another thing, and an equally important one, to acknowledge the human implications of the break. These were our friends, our old relations; we were leaving them, ending the particular facts of our long relationship forever. We would feel it. Seventeen seventy-six was the beginning of a dream. But it was the end of one too. “We might have been a free and great people together.”

Wow!  That certainly brings a personal element to the story.  That ties a bow on something that very many high school civics students I’m sure wondered silently while learning about the events in the late 1700s leading to the formation of our nation.  “What happened?  Did we hate each other?  Why are we good allies now?” To know that it was a tough break up is humbling.  Almost like a couple that goes through a bitter divorce to come out as reasonable friends on the other side.

Yet another interesting passage:

America and Britain did become great and free peoples together, and apart, bound by a special relationship our political leaders don’t often speak of and should never let fade. You can’t have enough old friends. There was the strange war of 1812, declared by America and waged here by England, which reinvaded, and burned our White House and Capitol. That was rude of them. But they got their heads handed to them in New Orleans and left, never to return as an army.

Even 1812 gave us something beautiful and tender. There was a bombardment at Fort McHenry. A young lawyer and writer was watching, Francis Scott Key. He knew his country was imperiled. He watched the long night in hopes the fort had not fallen. And he saw it—the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

That might help you appreciate those blooms and booms in the sky that much more this weekend.  It will for me.