Last week we celebrated the 227th anniversary of the revolutionary idea "that all Men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." One organizing principle of the Declaration of Independence is that sovereignty resides not in a monarch or any other institution of government but rather in each and every human being. Those sovereign individuals, acting in their collective capacity, created a democracy, which Abraham Lincoln defined as "government of the people, by the people and for the people."
With the Magna Carta in 1215, the English Parliament began to wrench sovereignty away from the king. With the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the Act of Settlements of 1701, Parliament finally wrestled sovereignty from the crown completely. But by this time in the American Colonies, another radical idea already had begun taking root: the idea of sovereignty residing not in Parliament or any other government institution, but in the people.
As early as 1754, Benjamin Franklin was challenging Parliament's authority to tax Americans without their having the right to send popularly elected representatives to that legislative body. In 1773, a watershed event revealed the irreconcilable differences between England and the Colonies. The royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, declared that Parliament's sovereignty over the Colonies was absolute.
John Adams rejected Hutchinson's claim on the grounds that the Colonial Charters granted the Colonists sovereign legislative powers.
The British refused to accept that sovereignty could reside anywhere but in Parliament, and the drums of war beat louder. Three years later, pushed beyond all endurance, the Americans declared their sovereignty and their independence from England, and the sovereign people of America created a grand new experiment in democratic self-rule.
Across the Atlantic, however, Britain and Europe never embraced the concept that sovereignty resides in the people. Today, Europe and Britain once again are grappling with the matter of sovereignty as they struggle to realize the longtime dream of Winston Churchill, Charles De Gaulle, Jean Monnet and so many others: A United States of Europe.
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