by Gary Spina
(From Kitchen Table Politics, Copyright 2012 by Gary Spina)
Our pioneer forefathers were adventurers — those early colonists who came to this new land called America and forged a living on an abiding faith in God and an unshakable belief in themselves — on sheer guts, grit, and fearless determination. They learned self-reliance. It was that or die. They knew how to shoot straight and fast how to stay alive. They learned to be ingenious. Farmers, craftsmen, merchants, risk-takers — they thrived. And they loved their freedom. Let the government stay out of our way. We’re doing all right on our own, thank you!
So, later when England tried to rein them in with taxes and restrictions, the colonists rose up in armed rebellion. By that time, they had been too used to guns and freedom. By that time, they were steeped in traditions of personal responsibility, honor, manhood, and raw courage. The British be damned – the Americans were striking out on their own!
The year was 1776, heady with danger and daring, and a young fire-brand named Thomas Jefferson was penning sweeping words that would lift men’s souls through the ages. He was writing it all down in a document called the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was a learned man, well versed in classical history and in the writings and philosophies of John Locke, Edmund Burke, and Adam Smith. He was a man of ideas and uncompromising ideals. If the truth be told, Thomas Jefferson loved liberty more than he loved The United States of America. If the Declaration of Independence could accomplish only one of two things – stir the hearts and minds of men to live and die in the blessings of freedom, or establish a sovereign nation — he would choose the former and let the latter work out its own details.
It has been said – and rightly so—that the Declaration of Independence is, in actuality, the Preamble to our Constitution. The Declaration of Independence states loudly and clearly – for England and for all the world—that man is born free – that his freedom comes from God, not from any monarch or any government. It asserts the “self-evident” truths of natural and divine law – law grounded in the moral concepts of basic right and wrong — that man is endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights – that to secure these rights, men form governments – that the governments men form derive their just powers from the consent of the governed – that men have a right to alter or abolish any government that becomes destructive to these ends.
The Declaration of Independence was beyond bold, beyond astounding — beyond treason itself, even. It was man and God standing side by side in all their glory – united and invincible. For it was, the document declared, how God intended it to be. And King George and all the might and power of the British army and navy be damned!
What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me—give me liberty, or give me death! ~ Patrick Henry – March 23, 1775
The Declaration of Independence declared the colonies free and independent states with the “full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. – And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
With that, 56 men signed their names, knowing full well that their signatures marked them for death under British law. But theirs was a higher law. The 56 signers had much to lose. They were mostly all successful men of wealth, property, and social status – merchants, ship-owners, statesmen, farmers, smiths, and tradesmen – men with homes and families – all men now marked for death. John Hancock signed his name big and bold so that King George would be sure to see it. Several signed their full names – first, middle, and last – so there’d be no mistaking who they were. Charles Carrol wrote “of Carrollton” after his name so the British would know where to find him, if they dared.
“Gentlemen,” Benjamin Franklin told the other 55 signers, “we must all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.”
And many of the signers and their family members who were later captured by the British most assuredly did suffer—death, torture, imprisonment, and utter financial ruin. But even then, on that 4th day of July, 1776, when they attached their signatures to those lofty words, the signers knew dark days lay ahead. And through it all they kept their word, their promise, their mutual pledge to each other no matter what the outcome – unselfishly risking their lives, their fortunes, and pledging their sacred honor for their unshakable believe in God’s natural law of free men in a self-governed free nation.
Now the year is 2013. Thank God, none of the signers are alive today to see how much of what they lived and died for we’ve let slip away.