Jeff Jacoby
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The Fourth of July is the only American holiday with a villain.

The Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, is best known for its stirring preamble. But most of the charter is an indictment of King George III for his "history of repeated injuries and usurpations" -- a catalogue of royal crimes ranging from obstruction of justice to the imposition of martial law to the levying of unfair taxes. "He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people," Congress charged. The king had proved to be "a Tyrant … unfit to be the ruler of a free people." Accordingly the American colonies were entitled not just "to be Free and Independent States," but also to be "absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown."

It was no small thing to give up their attachment to a monarch. Many Americans had only recently been enthusiastic royalists. Writing to a friend from Paris in 1767, Benjamin Franklin praised Louis XV, whom he had just met at Versailles. Yet "no Frenchman shall go beyond me," he insisted, "in thinking my own King and Queen the very best in the World and the most amiable." That was a common sentiment for the colonists, who after all had been raised as English citizens and the subjects of a king.

But as disaffection with British policies intensified, so did Americans' aversion to royalty. They came to see George III as the personification of everything they hated about the Old World's political institutions. Hereditary monarchy and blood-based nobility, once regarded as necessary and natural, turned into the ultimate symbol of despotism. It wasn't only for national independence that Americans fought a revolution. It was for a republic, too -- for a government of the people and by the people, a nation in which citizens governed themselves and rejected as pernicious the very idea of kings on thrones or aristocrats born to rule.

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Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.