Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The first freedom


The nation was founded on the freedom to carp and complain.

For proof, we need look no further than the Declaration of Independence, which upcoming festivities will celebrate.

The declaration severed the states from Mother England's strangling embrace and began the Revolutionary War. It starts out with a high-minded rationalization of why Americans want the British to hit the road, scat and be gone. It beautifully describes the self-evident rights of man: equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But that doesn't last long before it gets down to the heart of the document: a long list of complaints about King George III of Great Britain and his "repeated injuries and usurpations" from which the declaration's signers wished to be free.

Some histories and some politicians today would have us believe that separation from England was all about taxes and trade. They couldn't be more mistaken. It went much deeper than that.

The signers had had it with the king's playing fast and loose with lawmakers, ignoring laws, refusing to approve laws, hiding meetings of lawmakers from the people they were ruling, suspending lawmaking bodies on a whim and refusing to establish a fair legal system.

The signers could not abide corrupt courts presided over by judges who were beholden solely to the king for their livelihoods. They bitterly objected to the lack of trial by jury and mock trials that protected British soldiers who murdered Americans.

They were appalled to see fellow citizens deported on trumped-up charges.

The large armies of professional soldiers that Americans were forced to feed and lodge in their homes, or at least tolerate being stationed in their towns, really set them off.

Of the king they wrote, "He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns and destroyed the lives of our people." Strong, enraging stuff.

In the language of the time, the declaration was very uncivil speech indeed—a slap across the face of the king. It was a shot across the bow of the most powerful nation on Earth.

Americans have continued to exercise their first freedom, the right to carp and complain vigorously and without apology ever since the declaration. It is the essence of our political DNA.

When the noise of the nation's politics gets deafening, when pundits chastise us for "uncivil" speech—generally viewpoints someone else doesn't like—Americans should point proudly to the declaration and the war that gave us the right to exercise that freedom without fear of being killed, jailed or deported.




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