Meditation on July 4th by Bruce Hartford

 

All over the country, We The People celebrate Hotdogs and Fireworks Day on the Fourth of July.

If we attend some official event organized by the powers that be we are treated to an orgy of flag waving, patriotic “we’re the greatest” bombast, and bloviations on “Liberty” (the details of which are often unspecified, but mostly seem to be about freedom to make money without regard for the needs and welfare of others).

Almost never, however, is there any reading of any portion of the Declaration of Independence that this holiday supposedly honors. It’s no surprise that the ruling elite and the self-serving politicians who do their bidding prefer to gloss over the contents of the Declaration because at that document’s core are five fundamental assertions that they would prefer to conceal beneath heaping piles of patriotic blather:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,

That never meant — then or now — that every individual has the same talent, ability or character.

What it did mean back then, and still means today, is that there was to be no class of people — no aristocracy — who would be considered inherently superior by reason of wealth or birth. It meant that the rule of law was to apply equally to all, even the rich and powerful. It meant that criminals who use their power and position to rob pension funds and loot the economy should not be allowed to escape the consequences of their crimes simply because they’re titans of finance, captains of industry, or politically well-connected.

Yes, it’s true that most if not all of those who signed the Declaration assumed that “men” meant that all males were created equal and that women were not included in that concept. And yes, it’s also true that for many of them “men” were assumed to be white men because Native Americans and Blacks were not, in their eyes, fully human.

But it is testimony to the living power of an idea that once articulated it grows and expands beyond the limitations of the original authors. Through 200 years of hard struggle and sacrifice We The People expanded all men are created equal to mean “all humans are created equal.” Against bitter and violent opposition we made it so. And we continue to make it so today as we battle to broaden the concepts of justice and equality to include women, nonwhites, immigrants, gays & lesbians, non-Christians, the poor, and yes, even people with odd ideas.

That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,

Which means that God endowed everyone — not just the king, not just the aristocracy, not just the obscenely wealthy — with fundamental human rights that cannot be abridged or denied because of birth, gender, religion, national origin, or some social assertion of claimed inferiority. And that “might” does not confer “right,” because human rights are inherent in all of humanity — including those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Which means that people from all walks of life — yes even those who don’t look like we — have the right to live free of oppression. That the murder of a Black man is as much a crime as the murder of a white man. That all of us, citizen and immigrant, white and nonwhite, male and female, straight and gay, must be free to walk the streets and pursue our dreams in safety. And that servants and apprentices, menials and laborers, were not and are not lesser creatures forever sentenced to lives of drudgery devoid of hope, forever destined to be the “ten” who toil so that the “one can repose in leisure and luxury.

That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

Which means that political power is not handed down by God to kings and nobles, nor does legitimate power come from the barrel of a gun or from vaults filled with gold. Rather, legitimate government and just political power comes from the informed consent of the people — which is not necessarily the same thing as winning an election through demagoguery, lies and bribes, fraud and deceit.

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.

Which means that “We the People” have the right to determine how, and by whom, we are governed. That we have the right, and in fact the duty, to elect, and if necessary to remove, those who exercise political power in ways that are corrupt, despotic, or autocratic. And that if all else fails and we are faced with the prospect of political tyranny, we have the right to change the methods and forms of government, or completely overthrow an old government and replace it with a new one.

 

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