Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Declaration of Independence (the 1st draft was good)

Our 13 Original Colonies
Two hundred thirty six years ago, leaders among the thirteen original colonies of America decided they needed to formalize their notion of breaking away from the “mother ship,” Great Britain. A handful of brilliant men decided to write a resolution of independence that could be signed and voted upon by the leaders of the colonies with the desired goal to create a group of independent states called the United States of America. 
These men had ideas about governing the land in which they were living, and concepts and changes that might improve the rights for all. The ideas needed to be formulated and recorded on paper.

The colonies were experiencing unjust control unfettered mercantilism and taxation without representation heaved upon them from across the Atlantic Ocean. They saw inherent injustices in Great Britain and Scotland between the wealthy landowners and those who did not own land. Benjamin Franklin felt that private property ownership for all men, which was commonplace in the colonies, allowed for more equality and equity. Private property ownership was an important concept in the new fledgling democracy. In addition, Thomas Jefferson was a believer in human rights and freedom and wanted to see the practice of slavery come to an end.

This Declaration of Independence, was drafted and edited several times, and presented on July 2nd. It was written, for the most part, by Thomas Jefferson as part of a “committee of five” (Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams) and began with powerful prose:

When, in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them to the Separation.

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.

It took two more days for the declaration to be formally adopted by 12 colonies. There were two key points in Jefferson’s original document that some men wanted revised and removed: the first was a critical reference to the English people (fair enough), and the other was his denunciation of slavery and the slave trade. Jefferson's original draft was more humane and true to his fine words above (See Page 3 of the Declaration of Independence below).

Unfortunately, it took another 89 years for slavery to be abolished and for Jefferson’s famous prose of equal rights for all Men to finally be awarded. In addition, it took women until 1920 to be granted a voice and the right to vote. I am digressing, back to the Declaration of Independence. Another two weeks (July 19, 1776)  passed before  the declaration was finally approved by the colony of New York. And on August 2, 1776, it was signed by all the necessary leaders. However, the American War for Independence (the Revolutionary War) would rage on for five more years before the United States would be an independent and free nation (with the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Great Britain in 1783). It is interesting how the date of July 4th on which we commemorate America’s independence is not really indicative of the actual historical truth of our independence, this change took a long time to occur.

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4

July 4th is the designated national holiday and is celebrated with fireworks, flags, barbeques, parades and other summertime activities shared with family, friends and the community. On this day we are 185 days into the year and with only 180 left; this is the pinnacle of the summer season. The story of our country at a moment in time (early July, 1776) is an excellent example of the evolution of important ideas, the time it takes to put these into actual practice, and what a democracy and freedom for all really means.

This year, with many forest fires simmering in our area of Colorado, it may not wise to set off sparklers or firecrackers but watching a movie about this period in our history may be another way to enjoy the holiday. Here are three movies that might deepen the experience:

John Adams (HBO TV series) – won 4 Golden Globes and 13 Emmy Awards

Hooper, Tom, dir. John Adams. Perf. Paul Giamatti and LauraLinney. HBO Films, 2008. Film.

The Patriot (Movie/DVD) – nominated for 3 Oscars

Emmerich, Roland, dir. The Patriot. Perf. Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. Columbia Pictures, 2000. Film.

1776 – (Film version of Broadway musical) 

Hunt, Peter, dir. 1776. Perf.William Daniels and Howard Da Silva. Columbia Pictures, 1972. Film.

Claude H. Van Tine, The Causes of the War of Independence (1922) p 318

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