It seems to me that every so often we should kinda step back, take a time out, and pause for a little reflection about our country. Oh, it’s a bit difficult to do amidst the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, but this day above all others appears to be an appropriate opportunity to do just that – after all, this is the day we mark as the birthday of our nation.
From today’s perspective we can hardly imagine the courage and determination of the members of the Continental Congress some 241 years ago when they declared the thirteen colonies to be a new nation, the United States of America, and no longer part of the British Empire. Yep, although the first armed skirmishes between the colonists and British troops occurred in April, 1775, the formal Declaration of Independence was not adopted until July 4, 1776. The Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day, has since been recognized as a national holiday celebrating that heroic event.
When we stop and think about what was happening back then, we must realize that Britain was probably the most powerful nation in the western world. Its navy ruled the oceans, its armies were unmatched, and its economic power was immense. Despite the disparity between the fledgling new nation and the seemingly overwhelming superiority of Britain, these “ragtag farmers” as they were mockingly labeled, dared to declare their independence and sever the ties with their “mother” country.
The words of the Declaration of Independence announced to the world this fundamental and revolutionary concept: “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.” This conviction ran counter to the long-held European doctrine that royalty and gentry were destined to rule and control the rest of the people. That all men are created equal and have certain unalienable rights was unthinkable.
The Declaration continues with another revolutionary concept: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In today’s world we can‘t begin to imagine the consternation this statement caused among the ruling classes. Governments are instituted to secure these “unalienable rights” and derive their powers from the consent of the governed? Incredible, nonsense, absurd, right?
As extraordinary as the Declaration of Independence was then and remains today as a truly remarkable document, it was insufficient to meet the requirement of establishing a government to fulfill its lofty objectives. An interim agreement, known as The Articles of Confederation serving as a governing arrangement between and among the states, proved to be inadequate. As a result a convention took place from May 25 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation. The result, however, was the creation of an entirely new government embodied in The Constitution of the United States which was declared officially adopted in March 1789.
This document begins, “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence(sic), promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The ninth amendment reads, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” and the tenth, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Always the “people”.
Today we celebrate the birthday of our nation – a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal … [a] government of the people, by the people, for the people … .” (Abraham Lincoln,’s Gettysburg Address Nov, 19, 1863) We must never forget that the powers of government are derived from the consent of the people and we must constantly be on guard to ensure this and other fundamental concepts laid out by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are not violated or corrupted. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]