I didn't mark the holiday with an essay yesterday -- many of my friends did, no few of them using the occasion to point out the vast and intrusive nature of the current Federal government.
It's accurate enough but perhaps misplaced; what we have squatting in Washington D. C. with an ear to every phone call and and eye to every e-mail is an outgrowth of events long after the Treaty of Paris; the Constitution itself is over a decade younger than the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration was not the first document our would-be nation's government sent to the Crown, nor did it start the Revolutionary War. Indeed, a year earlier on 5 July 1775
, the Continental Congress had sent King George the "Olive Branch Petition
," professing loyalty to the Crown and trying for reconciliation in the war already raging.
A substantial majority of the Congress were already there was no going back, and they weren't reticent about it. Indeed, the very next day, the Congress drew up and sent off the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms
, which still flinches from declaring independence while endorsing the war.
Near the end of August, the Crown fired back with A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition
, following it up with a speech in October blaming a "desperate conspiracy" for the American war. Congress responded in December, still professing loyalty while repeating their grievances -- yes, including excessive taxation and lack of representation in Parliament.
The new country was still hoping to remain a part of the British Empire, not as a collection of colonies but an extension of the nation. Independence was inevitable -- but many still didn't want to face it.
In January 1776, Thomas Paine saw the publication of little pamphlet he had written: Common Sense
. It was a mind-bomb. It was a best-seller. It was printed in newspapers. It was pirated. Paine quarreled with his publisher ("quarreled" probably should have been his middle name). It was read out loud at civic gatherings. It was everywhere.
And the slim majority in the Continental Congress pining wistfully for reconciliation...shifted. It was never very strong; aside from that whole "loyalty to the Crown" thing, both sides wanted the troops and taxes gone and a voice in their own government. After Paine, the inevitability and desirability of independence were impossible to deny.
In July of that year, the Declaration of Independence officially took the next step. The United States Of America announced itself: these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown[...].
So we don't mark sixth July of 1775, or 23 August; we don't celebrate the first day of the Revolutionary war (19 April 1775), the surrender at Yorktown (19 October 1781) or the date of the signing of the Treaty of Paris (look it up) as this nation's birthday. Not blood or bullets, not Royal decree or solemn treaty: the United States of America was born on the day it stood up on its hind legs and proclaimed itself.
The men who signed that document held a wide variety of views about what form the government of the new nation ought to take; not all of them were convinced of the necessity of war; they were of different faiths and different degrees of faith -- but they found common ground when they had to.
And that's pretty much my takeaway: face the inevitable. Seek common ground. Stand by your principles -- and understand them. And don't take any guff from Kings or would-be Kings!