Have we ever really carefully read the Declaration of Independence? I think we all are aware of the key phrases that sum up what this document is declaring -- but do we know how much it really relates to us here and now?
On July 4, I thought about what it must have been like those many days ago and how it is in many places around our world, even now. I do like to just come and go where and when I please, manage my home and personal life, and take care of my family. Had I lived in any of the colonies in the 1700s, it would have been vastly different. I might have had to allow foreign soldiers to live in our home, eat our food and take over our living spaces. I really enjoy a cup of tea or iced tea, but I could not have paid the exorbitant price that included taxes used by a land across the sea to finance their endeavors, not those of our colony.
I would have no say, nor would any male in my family, about governance, how the rule of law would be applied, and how our personal goods could be taken from our home without permission. Well, it even might have been much worse than that.
I know you know all this, but ... the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, did not just happen out of the blue. A series of events led up to the final frustration of the original 13 colonies under British rule. Conflict increased between the Americans and their British policymakers. The colonies' opposition to British rule became increasingly evident after October 1765 when the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act to raise taxes to support their army in America. In November, the colonists enacted the action of their Stamp Act Congress by calling a boycott of British goods. Organized attacks against the businesses and homes of the tax collectors took place. Months later in March 1766, the Stamp Act would be repealed by Parliament.
This was not the end of the tax tyranny by Britain against the colonies. The tea tax instituted by Parliament resulted in the Boston Tea Party when protesting patriots dumped the contents of 1,800 pounds of tea belonging to the British East India Co. This so enraged Parliament the Coercive Act (the Intolerable Acts) was instituted in 1774. This act prevented colony merchant shipping and required Massachusetts to be under formal British military rule. Parliament later passed the American Prohibitory Act, which made all American vessels and cargoes forfeit to the Crown. British officers and troops were given special privileges against the colonists. The American Prohibitory Act made all American vessels and cargoes forfeit to the Crown.
The unjust taxation and lack of voice in what the colonies were experiencing led to increasing frustration on the part of the colonists who were treated as foreigners of the Crown.
The first Continental Congress was formed to unite the colonists' resistance to the British. Patriots formed secret militias to resist the British militia. On April 19, 1775, shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts when British troops were marching to take over a patriot arsenal they had located.
When they encountered some patriot militia at Lexington, shots were fired. This began more than a civil war. It was more than just a rebellion. It was the colonists struggle for their rights and for self-rule.
After May 1775, Britain's refusal to reform or even to negotiate brought more action by the Continental Congress. This congress served as the governing body of the colonies and encouraged states to form their own governments. (Note: the word "states" is in usage as well as "colonies".) The Continental army had been formed, Continental currency established, and a Post Office organized for the United Colonies.
By January 1776, the publication "Common Sense" by Thomas Paine further influenced support for the colonies to form their own government. On June 7, 1776, before the Continental Congress in Pennsylvania, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia read his declaration calling for independence from the state of Great Britain.
It began "Resolved: That 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, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved." (This resolution would be adopted later by 12 of the 13 colonies on July 1, 1776, after the Continental Congress reconvened.)
The Continental Congress then assigned a committee of five patriots to write a document declaring the right of the colonies to be independent. Thomas Jefferson from Virginia was primarily responsible.
Between June 11 and June 17, 1776, he summarized the ideals of individual liberty and freedom expressed by John Locke and other philosophers who had written and advocated natural rights. Grievances against the King of England were included to justify the colonies right for self governance and separation from Britain.
The Continental Congress reconvened July 1, 1776. After the 12 colonies adopted Lee's resolution, the committee of five submitted to Congress the Declaration, which had only a few changes from Jefferson's version.
Jefferson utilized the first sentences for the Declaration of Independence from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was written by George Mason and accepted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention on June 12, 1776. Later, those words would be the guide for our Bill of Rights.
On July 2, 1776, Jefferson wrote: "I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections. ... I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress." Congress worked and debated all the next day until late the next morning until they finally reached consensus.
And then, on July 4, 1776, The bells rang out. All Philadelphia must have heard them. The Declaration of Independence had been officially adopted. Fireworks burst into the air.
Evidently drought was not of concern.
Yes, how blessed we are as Americans. But there is also a duty and responsibility that comes with the blessings and rights that we have received. We need to be aware of our rights and our privileges, and what we must do to preserve them.
They are not free; they came at a great cost. It is a great privilege, and a grave responsibility to vote, to keep aware of what our legislators promote, and keep them informed of our views and beliefs. We cannot say "My vote does not count so I don't bother to vote." We must guard our voting rights for this right came at a high price. Most importantly, we must live according to what we believe and not succumb to pressures against our conscience.
Americans have fought and died for this right. I have heard it said by a justice of the Supreme Court that "America has changed." That may be so, but truth and what is right does not change.
God bless America. In God we trust. God bless those who keep the true spirit of America alive. God bless those who have fought and died for what we believe in. Thank you, God, for the gift of this great land of the free. But remember that freedom is not free -- it comes at a cost.
And that is what the days after the Fourth of July should be all about.
Ruth Moriarity is a member of The Hays Daily News Generations advisory group.