Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Declaration! The Crimes of the King

This year at Los Pecos Homeschool, N. and I have engaged the founding documents of the United States as part of our civics education. The study has led us to understand our nation and civilization more deeply, and has engendered in us a greater respect for the principles upon which our nation was founded. Ultimately, the study has led the adult members of the family towards a more overt libertarian political view. I say more overt because homeschooling is in some sense a politically radicalizing act, even if the original motives of the homeschooling family were not politcal. Clearly, to buck compulsary government education implies a somewhat libertarian worldview to begin with.

Today is July 1st, and as we approach the Fourth of July holiday, which is the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, I thought it would be instructive to blog some of what we learned in our study. So over the next few days, I will blog about the Declaration with some focus on parts that are not ordinarily highlighted by our political leaders--perhaps with good reason given the general collectivist, anti-liberty stance of those in power.

Most of us--or at least those of a certain age--are familiar with the stirring beginning of the Declaration of Independence:

"When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another...

"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..."

Stirring words indeed, and we often stop reading and quoting there, but as the Declaration is a document that explicates the reasons for the rebellion of the American colonists against their government in England, delving more carefully into the rest of the document can give us insight into the values of our nation at the founding.

The founding generation of Americans found cause to take up arms and stake their lives on the enlightenment idea that each person was endowed with certain rights not given by kings or priests, but that are derived from the nature of human beings. The body of the Declaration states that:

"...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..."

What were these "abuses and usurpations" that were so great as to to cause the embattled farmers of Lexington and Concord to fire the shot hear 'round the world?

The Declaration lists them in a section that is informally known as "the crimes of the king," listed thusly:

"The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
"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; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
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, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.
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 erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.
He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:
For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing taxes on us without our consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:
For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:
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.
He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

What is so interesting about the crimes of the king is that to most of the people living on earth then, as well as now, these actions by government were, and are, considered right and normal. N. and I continue to note how often Americans (!) talk about our government as if its objective is to rule over us and impose upon us legislation for purposes other than the protection of our natural rights.

It is an interesting exercise to consider the crimes of the king in light of the various usurpations of our liberties by our own government that we take for granted today. The examination of just a few such from the list above are instructive. Consider for example, this one:

"He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance." This usurpation has to do with the multiplication of bureaucracy; unelected officialdom that can and does violate our civil rights for purposes not made plain to those whose rights are violated. Think about the IRS, which has been unlawfully given powers that even the judges of Supreme Court do not have to destroy commerce and ruin lives. Think about the increasing power of the Census Bureau, which has now been unconstitutionally empowered to harrass citizens until they surrender even the most personal information to faceless government officials. And these organizations certainly do "eat out our substance," as is demonstrated by the excuse of the Census Bureau that they are providing jobs for people otherwise unemployable. So our substance is transfered to people who cannot find productive employment for the sole purpose of violating our rights at our own expense! (Rational Jenn is definitely on to something in her discussion of the sanction of the victim).

Or what about this one?

"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation..." Has not our own government recently, in the name of 'multiculturalism' and 'citizenship in the world' been willing to forgo our national sovereignty on a multitude of issues, thus subjecting American citizens to violations of their rights that the federal goverment exists to protect? Think about it with respect to our government's acquiesence to the World Court or to foreign governments in matters of transport, trade and resource use.

I am sure that every reader could tackle one or two of the crimes of the king and find ways that we, a free people, acquiesce every day to what our founders considered tyranny.

But my point here is that those patriots were protesting behavior by governments that was accepted as appropriate then and, for the most part, now. And not only did they complain about it, the staked their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" on their right to be free of it. They armed themselves, marched out to the battlefield and were soundly defeated over and over again by a professional army quartered among them before they won their freedom.

Why? N. and I believe that it was because they understood something that we have forgotten. There is no such thing as partial liberty. Either we are free and independent or we are subjects and dependent. And in this day of the Nanny State, many of us do not protest the gradual usurpations of our independence, lulled as we are by the comfortable numbness of cradle-to-grave government meddling.

Our founders were made of sterner stuff. They understood that to be free is to be responsible for one's own life and fortune; that people cannot be coerced into freedom and righteous behavior--they must choose it, live it and defend it. They reckoned that submission to even the most innocuous of violations would lead inevitably to servitude:

"An incautious people may submit to these demands, one after another, until its liberty is irrevocably gone, before they saw the danger. Injuries small in themselves, may in their consequences be fatal to those who submit to them; especially if they are persisted in. And, with respect to such injuries, we should ever act upon that ancient maxim of prudence, obsta principiis.* The first unjust demands of an encroaching power should be firmly withstood...And oftentimes it may be both the right and duty of a people to engage in war rather than give up to the demands of such a power, what they could, without any incoveniency, spare in the way of charity..."

--Simeon Howard, Sermon Preached to the

Ancient and Honorable Artillary Company of Boston, 1773.

Obsta Principiis: Resist the first advances. That's what they did at Lexington and Concord.

I believe that lurking somewhere in the souls of a free people, there is an understanding of another maxim: "Give 'em an inch, and they'll take a mile!" So it is.

And so this July 4th, I hope that many of us will consider the wisdom of resisting the first advances encroaching on our liberties. Take some action, some small step towards an understanding of and a defense of our American ideals. I believe that lurking somewhere within us is the strength and resolve of our founders, the resolve to resist the first advances.

Photo Credits: 1) Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia.

2) Lexington Green Memorial, names of those who died, 18 April 1775. (E. Levin, 2004)

3) Living History Minuteman, On the Green at Lexington, MA. (E. Levin, 2004)

4) Minuteman Memorial, On the Green at Lexington, MA. (E. Levin, 2004)


Swylv said...

excellent post! thanks for sharing your research/discussions


Reading English history, from roughly 1550 through 1775, will give you a much deeper understanding, much more of the why, of the founding of the U.S.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hi, Lesle,

Thanks for stopping by.

This post was specifically about the Declaration of Independence as a political document and its relevence to us now. Therefore, I did not mention the much more onerous taxes that English subjects were paying at home due to difficult trade policies and a very expensive war with France--of which the French and Indian War (as it was called in the American colonies) was only a part.
However, I have remarked elsewhere that the Crown was as broke then as the United States is now, and for much the same reasons.

All of this makes my point even more pointed, so to speak, because the colonists took up their arms in rebellion over taxes and issues of governance that must have been seen as relatively benign by the subjects living in England itself. In fact, the people 'back home' thought that the colonists had it pretty good by comparison, and talked much of making them pay their share.

Nevertheless, the colonists had developed under benign neglect for a long time, and had become quite self-reliant and self-governing. They were wealthy, and the average person was healthier than those of comparable class back in England, and they were also doing very well at trade. The American Revolution was a conservative revolution in the sense that the colonists really "dissolved political bonds" with mad old King George to preserve what they had already built. This is very different indeed from the French Revolution.

By the by, I have had two university level courses--one specifically on the American Colonial Period and Revolution (1603 - 1789)and one on English History of a similar period, though not exactly the same. It covered from Cromwell to the end of the 18th century, more or less.

So I have read the history that you have mentioned, using original sources as well as texts written on both sides of the Atlantic.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I look forward to discussing it with my husband and daughter. Now is not the time for complacency.

Anonymous said...

There is a wealth of knowledge and food for thought here. :-) Thank you!

Barbara Frank said...

Isn't it interesting how the things we study with the purpose of educating our children also end up educating us? :)

We, too, have found our viewpoints changing as we learn things with our children that we never learned in school.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Barbara, it is amazing at that!
Someday, I will blog the story of how I came to be a small "l" libertarian!