The War of Independence was not the culmination of irresistible forces but of enlightened ideas. It was the shining ideal of liberty that changed the course of history, and it remains eternally available for mankind to do so again.
The path to liberty was long and arduous. Nothing came easy, and the oppressive state that ruled our forebears did not yield to eloquence, but to force. It required the steely resolve of our intellectual ancestors, men willing to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, for the American colonists to shrug off their oppressors.
The European heritage of feudalism and absolutism has always been alien on this continent, and tyranny thus only able to garner temporary footholds. But America is currently under assault by a distinctly European mindset, being insinuated into our culture by those hostile to the austere demands of liberty.
In the American colonies, men had space in civil society to communicate, as patriots around the United States are actively doing now. The colonists had the ability to work and support themselves, until the British empire grew exploitative and constrictive. Our founders threw off the chains of their rulers to found a government intended to protect men from state-imposed slavery, and it was their bold and brilliant vision that lit the way from independence to emancipation, and thence to suffrage, true civil rights, and beyond.
But an intellectually and morally slavish mindset has taken hold in the minds of countrymen who serve themselves by abusing the state. Among our intellectual elites, nobleness of disposition has given way to specious rationalizations of power. And our presumed underclass has used democracy to enslave their supposed oppressors, who are guilty of nothing but hard work and productivity, but are nonetheless forced by the aristocratic elect to subsidize their fellow citizens instead of employ them.
Our revolutionary first principles of individual rights and liberty have been incrementally replaced by the ethics of social conformity, indentured servitude through the immoral force of the state, and the toleration of a self-serving and hypocritical oligarchy. It is our duty to oppose these men, whose power-lust has overtaken their self-control and sense of honor. Nothing less than our dignity and autonomy are at stake.
Let us look back on the intellectual and political breakthroughs that led to the first revolution in human history whose goal was the emancipation of mankind. This Independence Day let us meditate to what extent these lofty words match our current reality.
Magna Carta (1225)
“All these aforesaid customs and liberties which we have granted to be held in our realm in so far as pertains to us are to be observed by all of our realm, both clergy and laity, in so far as pertains to them in respect to their own men. For this gift and grant of these liberties and of others contained in our charter over the liberties of the forest, the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, knights, fee holders and all of our realm have given us a fifteenth part of all their movable goods. Moreover we grant to them for us and our heirs that neither we nor our heirs will seek anything by which the liberties contained in this charter might be infringed or damaged, and should anything be obtained from anyone against this it is to count for nothing and to be held as nothing.”
“The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of nature for his rule. The liberty of man, in society, is to be under no other legislative power, but that established, by consent, in the commonwealth; nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact, according to the trust put in it. Freedom then is not what Sir Robert Filmer tells us, Observations, A. 55. a liberty for every one to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws: but freedom of men under government is, to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where the rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man: as freedom of nature is, to be under no other restraint but the law of nature.
This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power, is so necessary to, and closely joined with a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it, but by what forfeits his preservation and life together: for a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot, by compact, or his own consent, enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another, to take away his life, when he pleases. No body can give more power than he has himself; and he that cannot take away his own life, cannot give another power over it. Indeed, having by his fault forfeited his own life, by some act that deserves death; he, to whom he has forfeited it, may (when he has him in his power) delay to take it, and make use of him to his own service, and he does him no injury by it: for, whenever he finds the hardship of his slavery outweigh the value of his life, it is in his power, by resisting the will of his master, to draw on himself the death he desires.
This is the perfect condition of slavery, which is nothing else, but the state of war continued, between a lawful conqueror and a captive: for, if once compact enter between them, and make an agreement for a limited power on the one side, and obedience on the other, the state of war and slavery ceases, as long as the compact endures: for, as has been said, no man can, by agreement, pass over to another that which he hath not in himself, a power over his own life.”
Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death” Speech (March 23, 1775)
“They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace! – but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? 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!”
Richard Henry Lee (June 7, 1776)
“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.”
John Adams on The Declaration of Independence (July 2nd, 1776)
“Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony “that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make War, conclude Peace, establish Commerce, and to do all the other Acts and Things, which other States may rightfully do.”
You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the Causes, which have impell’d Us to this mighty Revolution, and the Reasons which will justify it, in the Sight of God and Man. A Plan of Confederation will be taken up in a few days. On July 2, 1776 the Association known as United Colonies of America officially became the United States of America.”
The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson, Council of Five (July 4, 1776)
“The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
“The pusillanimous idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with, still haunted the minds of many. For this reason those passages which conveyed censure on the people of England were struck out, lest they should give them offense. The clause too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in compliance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it. Our Northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender under these censures; for tho’ their people have very few slaves themselves yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.”
Samuel Adams’ Speech on The Declaration of Independence (August 1, 1776)
“We have no other alternative than independence, or the most ignominious and galling servitude. The legions of our enemies thicken on our plains; desolation and death mark their bloody career; whilst the mangled corpses of our countrymen seem to cry out to us as a voice from Heaven.
Our union is now complete; our constitution composed, established, and approved. You are now the guardians of your own liberties. We may justly address you, as the decemviri did the Romans, and say: “Nothing that we propose can pass into a law without your consent. Be yourselves, O Americans, the authors of those laws on which your happiness depends.”
You have now in the field armies sufficient to repel the whole force of your enemies and their base and mercenary auxiliaries. The hearts of your soldiers beat high with the spirit of freedom; they are animated with the justice of their cause, and while they grasp their swords can look up to Heaven for assistance. Your adversaries are composed of wretches who laugh at the rights of humanity, who turn religion into derision, and would, for higher wages, direct their swords against their leaders or their country. Go on, then, in your generous enterprise, with gratitude to Heaven for past, success, and confidence of it in the future. For my own part, I ask no greater blessing than to share with you the common danger and common glory. If I have a wish dearer to my soul than that my ashes may be mingled with those of a Warren and a Montgomery, it is that these American States may never cease to be free and independent.”
The Twin Revolution of 1776 was fundamentally in support of conserving well-developed American values governmentally and not for the purpose of their destruction. As the Continental Congress proclaimed on July 6, 1775, in the “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms“:
[We have taken up arms] “. . . for the preservation of our liberties . . . in defence of the freedom that is our birth-right, and which we ever enjoyed till the late violation of it . . .”
The Twin Revolution was therefore, in general, in defense of established governmental institutions, principles and accustomed rights; but these institutions were then given new functions and significance in the light of the Twin Revolution’s goal of complete self-government: Man-over-Government. It was against tyrannous officials acting as usurpers–acting lawlessly, as “out-laws,” because outside of the scope of their prescribed authority under Law designed to make and keep secure these things governmental and the people’s liberties. It was in pursuit of more complete self-government and Individual Liberty: Freedom from Government-over-Man. An element of evolution governmentally was thus involved: progress through building on the basis of the governmental institutions, customs and civilization in general already established in America. This spelled a vast advance in governmental philosophy and system because–through a century and a half of pioneering governmentally and other-wise–the American people had by 1776 already achieved greater freedom for The Individual from Government-over-Man and a civilization far more advanced politically than any that then existed in the Old World or would exist there for a long time afterward.
The Twin Revolution of 1776 commenced, in truth, a never-ending process of evolution looking towards ever-fuller realization of The American Ideal, of the goals stated in the Declaration of Independence. Therein lies the significance of the call, to endless striving, by James Wilson, one of The Framers, in his oration on July 4, 1788:
“A progressive state is necessary to the happiness and perfection of man. Whatever attainments are already reached, attainments still higher should be pursued. Let us, therefore, strive with noble emulation. Let us suppose we have done nothing, while any thing yet remains to be done. Let us, with fervent zeal, press forward, and make unceasing advances in every thing that can support, improve, refine, or embellish society . . . The commencement of our government has been eminently glorious: let our progress in every excellence be proportionably great. It will–it must be so.”
The fact that the Twin Revolution of 1776 is a continuing process of evolution was highlighted in a 1787 address to the American people by Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (quoting the first and the last paragraphs; emphasis his):
“There is nothing more common, than to confound the terms of American Revolution with those of the late American war. The American war is over: but this is far from being the case with the American revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the great drama is closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our new forms of government; and to prepare the principles, morals, and manners of our citizens, for these forms of government, after they are established and brought to perfection . . . Patriots of 1774, 1775, 1776—heroes of 1778, 1779, 1780! come forward! your country demands your services!–Philosophers and friends to mankind, come forward! your country demands your studies and speculations! Lovers of peace and order, who declined taking part in the late war, come forward! your country forgives your timidity and demands your influence and advice! Hear her proclaiming, in sighs and groans, in her governments, in her finances, in her trade, in her manufactures, in her morals, and in her manners, ‘THE REVOLUTION IS NOT OVER.’ “
While we honor the Founding Fathers’ memory by invoking their potent words, we must realize that ideas are not animated of their own accord; but must rather be carried forth by men who revere them and are compelled to act on them. The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States, are only powerful so far as we citizens carry them forward.