It was 234 years ago that the Jefferson-penned Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 men from the 13 crown colonies of North America. First and foremost, the signing was an act of treason against the Crown and, during the time of Manifest Destiny, and act of sacrilege. While Jefferson and the founders are often acknowledged for their bravery, it was the meticulous legal craftsmanship of the Declaration that proclaimed the credibility of a nation. This move was not a hectic power-grab, nor was it politics run amok. Thomas Jefferson took great care in explaining the case for separation from England.
It is perhaps necessary, in our current political climate, to explain the reasons for rebellion to a new generation of patriots. If our great nation is to see another 200 years, we must all have a clear understanding of our origins. Anyone presuming to talk or write of the simplicity of those origins is either ignorant of the truth, or else ignoring the truth. More than five years of war followed the signing of the Declaration; the construction of the Constitution took a further six. The men who framed the Declaration, rebellion, and Constitution that followed, were farmers and tradesman, lawyers and doctors, pastors and soldiers. The Founding Fathers were anything but a uniform group of idealists.
A recent cover story in the USA Today on the Tea Party, referred to the reason for the American Revolution as a “tax revolt”. The good people of the Tea Party were framed as simple, everyday people who were simply fed up with the direction of the nation. They were tired, the article stated, of politicians steering the nation away from the original intent of the founders. They were sick, to paraphrase the article, of the taxes and government intrusion that had become a norm in the nation. I have no trouble believing that most of the members of the Tea Party are, in fact, good and decent folks; if one cares enough about the nation to be involved politically, then that person will have earned my initial respect.
The problem with both the article and the Tea Party, is the total lack of perspective regarding the history of our nation and its founding. The current ideas driving the “don’t tread on me” crowd, are a cornucopia of “it was better when” remembrances and historical fallacies. The good old days, Billy Joel sung, weren’t always good; historical realities that contrast with conservative ideology are not constructs of the mythical liberal media. For starters, the Revolution was not a tax revolt. By my count, 27 clearly defined reasons are given by Jefferson for dissolving the colonies’ political connections with the Crown. One mentions taxation “without Consent”. That rather ambiguous statement was, thankfully, clarified for our benefit by the real Tea Party, which dumped tea into Boston Harbor in protest of taxation without representation.
The Constitution of the United States, through the original articles and the Bill of Rights, also answers the question of revolt. The British Crown imposed a religion on its subjects, and forbade criticism and assembly; the 1st Amendment addressed that grievance. The British Crown forbade the colonists from arming themselves for personal defense; the 2nd Amendment addressed that grievance. The British Crown mandated the quartering of the King’s soldiers in colonial housing; the 3rd Amendment addressed that grievance. The British Crown could stop, search, question, and seize the personal or commercial articles of anyone it or its agents chose; the 4th Amendment addressed that grievance.
It cannot be argued that we live in an era where political infighting and the war of labeling have escalated to critical levels. While I had profound disagreements with President Bush and his agenda, it must be stated that the steady liberal fascination with his difficulties in public speaking and declining approval ratings were appalling. Conservative commentators, for their part, regularly attack President Obama’s family and routinely ascribe his actions to subversive, incompetent, treasonous, or evil motives. The current fascination, by the Tea Party and its media apologists, with the Founding Fathers and the Revolution is linked directly to a dangerously narrow and distorted reading of history.
I would like to call attention to ten points of reason that I feel must be considered during this time of important national debate.
- Being the minority party in a democracy is not taxation without representation; ours is not a government by referendum. House Democrats in the Reagan years can share their feelings quite easily with House Republicans today.
- The majority of our nation’s founders were Christians who acted to protect the free exercise of religion by keeping government out of religion. The 1st Amendment contains two clauses on religion; they are meant to be read in balance.
- The original intent of the Founders was that the government, via its Constitution, should be flexible enough to change with the times so that it could survive. Amendments are every bit as important and sacred to the Constitution as the Preamble.
- The judiciary is equally as important to the United States as the other branches; two of Jefferson’s 27 revolved around the importance of the judiciary.
- “Activist” judges can be either liberal or conservative, and neither is more or less likely to overturn the will of the people. The Supreme Court recently overturned handgun laws in both Washington D.C. and Chicago that were strongly supported by a majority of the population. Activist judges also desegregated the schools…it works both ways.
- If you have fond memories of the 50’s and 60’s, and you find yourself complaining about today, you should recall that the tax levels were much, much higher in those decades than they are now.
- If you have fond memories of the U.S. winning WWII, the Race to the Moon, the Cold War, or interstate highways, you should remember that all were big government programs supported by huge taxes and federal debt spending.
- If you find yourself complaining about the 30% or so increase in the size of the federal debt that President Obama will incur in his first term, you should remember the 100% increase in the federal debt that George W. Bush incurred in his two terms. Were you sick of government spending two years ago?
- If you are upset that President Obama did not prevent the Big Spill, then you are, in fact, mad that he wasn’t more liberal. Liberals demand the government’s intervention in the marketplace to prevent market failure’s like the Gulf, the Mine, and Wall Street. Conservatives believe that those markets can handle things on their own. Are you consistent in your criticisms?
- If you want the nation to go back to the Founder’s original intent, does that mean you are in favor of women with no rights, blacks in slavery, and no rights to keep and bear arms, practice religion, assemble and/or speak, or be free from warrant-less searches and seizure?
Read the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and think about the words in detail. Who wrote them and for whom were they written? What context informed the writer, and what hopes and dreams found sanctuary in those documents. Read then the supporting documents that form the structure of our nation. The Federalist argued largely against the Bill of Rights, but its contents continue to illuminate patriots today. The treaties and Supreme Court decisions of our history form, according to the Constitution, a part of the law of our land. So many today, from every political disposition, presume to lecture the good citizens of America without ever having read the foundational documents of our nation.
Arm yourself against those who would use you as a tool for their perverse personal agendas; knowledge is power. There is room enough in our nation for both conservatism and liberalism, providing both ideologies are based on reasonable and consistent arguments, and practiced by respectful and just people. Our nation’s birthday is a good day, I think, to remember the clear-headed rationality that attended the magnificent audacity of those brave men in Philadelphia. They could comprehend a destiny that exceeded the span of their own lives; shall we not live up to their example?
The Rational Middle is listening…