We declared our independence from Great Britain 239 years ago this week. It was a declaration long in coming, brought about by the overreaching rule of King George III and Britain's insistence on taxation without representation, and sparked in part by the quartering of troops in our own homes. We were required to give -- both in taxes and hospitality without any say -- without a vote or a voice. The taxation began in the 1760s, the Boston Massacre occurred in 1770, the Boston Tea Party in 1773 and the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April of 1775.
It did not happen overnight, but over decades of subjugation and British arrogance. They could simply take what they needed -- we were only subjects --with no voice or vote.
For years we went along -- attempting to be heard, attempting to have a say in the rules and regulations that provided the framework for our lives.
Patrick Henry's call to action, "Give me liberty or give me death," was the first strong public statement that, if we were to be free, if we were to have liberty, then we would have to fight Britain. Henry understood that the answer was not to wait and see, that we had to be willing to fight for our freedom. This was the first time this was clearly laid out; until then the belief was that we could negotiate with Britain. We could go along and get along.
No more. Henry lay down the gauntlet and clearly presented his view of what we were facing.
Our choice was liberty or death.
Our founders chose to take the challenge and declared our Independence from Britain on July 4, 1776.
Our Declaration of Independence is a three-part document: the first a declaration of freedom, including our understanding of the natural order of authority and power; the second a long list of grievances, reinforcing the belief that there was no choice but to declare our independence as a free country; the third an acknowledgment of risk and the oath of the signers to one another.
The first section is the one that is most often quoted: "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. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
The second part, less often referenced, lays out the reasoning for why we were seeking independence, noting that government should not change lightly. Instead only when "a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism." At that point it was no longer a choice to change but "it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." This declaration was followed by a long list of grievances committed by King George III.
Our founders concluded the document with the pledge to each other, and an invocation of God. Knowing that their declaration would be seen as an act of treason by the king, the signers also knew that, if they were not successful, they would risk losing their lives.
This document declared us free, outlined the foundational understanding of our rights, from whom they came, and our responsibilities to maintain them.
Just as our founding fathers fought for our freedom more than 200 years ago, so must we continue to fight to ensure that our government remains ours and our freedoms remain intact. It is not only our right, but it is also our duty to ensure our country's future security.