Thursday, July 04, 2013

Could You Tell An Egyptian (Or Anyone One Else) The Gist of the Declaration of Independence?

It's July 4th.  The day we celebrate American Independence.  Though, on that hot summer day in 1776, the signers were no more certain they would achieve their goal than the demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo were a year ago or are today.  They were taking a risk, a big risk.  They didn't represent the majority of colonists.  And the last line of the Declaration reflects this:
"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."
Most Americans have either never read the Declaration or have only read it in school.  They couldn't readily explain it to someone.  I looked at it carefully last night and realized I too was guilty.  The quiz in the previous post was to tweak people into looking at the Declaration.  For those who had better things to do on this July 4th (hey, I'm teasing here, we all make decisions on how to spend our time), I'll give you a shorter way to engage this.  Here's a synopsis and, below, an outline.  Perhaps a few of you may want to look at the whole thing.

A Synopsis of the Declaration of Independence

Essentially the document says:
People have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Governments are set up to ensure these.  When the government fails to do this, it's ok to overturn that government and set up a new one.  But this shouldn't be undertaken lightly.  We are not doing this frivolously and here is a list of complaints we have to support the justness of our decision.  They then list 27 items that they say they have petitioned the King over only to have the violations repeated.  They have also appealed to the people and legislative body of England only to be ignored.  So now they have no choice but to declare themselves independent as a nation. 

I've made the following outline of the Declaration.  Others will probably make different outlines as different points resonate with them more strongly.  I'd love it if people knew enough about the Declaration to point out where I've gone astray. 

An Outline of the Declaration of Independence
Paragraph 1.  There comes a time when you have to cut ties
  • And when it’s only reasonable to give the reasons
Paragraph 2.  Our basic assumptions
  • all men are created equal and 
  • have certain unalienable rights
    • Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness
  • Governments, deriving their power from the governed, are the means to these ends
  • When the government deprives people of these ends,
    • they have the right to change or get rid of the government
    • to institute a new one with principles and powers they think most likely to establish their Safety and Happiness
  • Changing governments shouldn’t be undertaken lightly
    • But after much abuse, it’s their right to throw off such a government
  • That’s our situation, and here are the particulars:
    • List of 27 items - basically dealing with
      • Interference with the Colonies; legislatures, laws, rights to govern selves
      • Interference with justice systems
      • Bringing armies, inciting others (e.g. "merciless Indian Savages’) to plunder, ravage, burn,  and destroy
      • Preventing immigration and blocking trade

Paragraph. 3.  Every step of the way we humbly petitioned for redress only to be answered with repeated injury

Paragraph. 4.  We’ve also reached out to our English Brethren, but they  too were deaf to our pleas

Paragraph  5.. We therefore, as representatives of these united States of America, declare
  •     they are absolved of allegiance to the British crown and
    •    all political ties are cut
  •     As free an independent states
    • the colonies have full power to
      • levy war
      • conclude peace
      • contract alliances
      • establish commerce
      • and all things independent states have the right to do
  •     We mutually pledge our lives and fortunes and our sacred honor.

In a third July 4th post, I'll look at a few issues that struck me as of interest today as I reread the Declaration.

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