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July 5, 2002

New Traditions for the Fourth of July

Ronald W. Wolf

We need to consider another tradition to go along with fireworks and hamburgers on the grill this Fourth of July. We need to make it a tradition to re-read the Declaration of Independence, so we can stay in touch with why this country was founded the way it was.

Let's recap. Right up front the Declaration talks about breaking the political union with England. It really wasn't a union. The colonists were subject to the England's whims. The blame for the problems that led to the Declaration was placed on George III, but he wasn't the brightest of royal lights and others in the English government were at fault too.

The wealthy and powerful in England viewed the colonies as profit-making opportunities. Pick up raw materials on the cheap in the colonies and sell finished products back to colonists for a tidy profit. And to make sure those lousy colonists weren't making their own finished goods or any other product you wanted them to buy from England, you installed your troops to squelch what the colonists were doing and your governors to keep order. And if the colonists still made products rather than buying them from English merchants, you taxed them.

Hundreds of years of oppression and an increasingly rate of literacy (not just here but in England and elsewhere) led to the spread of radical ideas such as "unalienable Rights" including "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," and that these rights came from God and natural law. People - not a king or his representatives - had the right to control their destiny.

The Declaration was not against taxes but against taxes without the consent of those being taxed. Government wasn't to be taken lightly nor changed for "light and transient" causes. Don't think that Jefferson and Franklin and the Adams were anti-government. Rather they were big on the idea of government - government that was representative of what the colonists wanted and needed. Consider these excerpts from the list of grievances against George III.

"He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."

"He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained .."

"He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation .."

"He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures."

"He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly .."

"He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers."

"He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries."

"He has kept among us . Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures."

"He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power."

"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:"

". For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

". For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever."

Our legislatures and our government under our control. These are the themes of the Declaration of Independence. The signers of the Declaration of Independence supported government, and this list doesn't mention trial by jury or consent to taxes or free trade, although the Declaration does. The signers wanted a stable government that wasn't subject to popular whims.

In our system of government, we elect people to represent us, and it is the elected official, not the individual, that consents to taxes and other laws. The United States has the most stable, enduring, government in the world. The system works, but it works best when the citizen participates.

This is an election year.

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