Friday, July 4, 2014

Signatures on a Parchment

"That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Declaration of Independence, adopted 1776 in Philadelphia, PA.

Much is often made of how the self-interested find their way into government, or its periphery. Truth to tell, there is money and power to be had there. With three-plus trillion dollars flowing through Washington every year there are uncountable ways to prosper.

It is fashionable in some cliques to attribute this to our Founders, the men who this day 238 years ago in muggy Philadelphia affixed their signatures onto a parchment declaring a treasonous act. They were a wealthy elite, one percenters, who organized a country to further their own interests. So goes the tale.

John Hancock, of Massachusetts, attended Boston Latin, and graduated Harvard. He was a merchant, one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the colonies. Josiah Bartlett was also born in Massachusetts but worked as a physician in New Hampshire. Virginia's Francis Lightfoot Lee's bio says that he was "educated at home," and served in the House of Burgess. New Yorker Phillip Livingston graduated Yale, and was a merchant. Principal Declaration author Thomas Jefferson had so many titles and interests that President John Kennedy said of him, addressing a gathering of Nobel Prize winners - "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

 These men, and the others who signed their names to the document, pledged "Our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor" to the cause of American Freedom. Over the next seven years, as the Continental Army saw defeat and retreat, signer Benjamin Franklin's words "we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately" took on new urgency. Is it so hard to imagine, as successors to their cause and beneficiaries of their sacrifices, that these men who had so much to lose would risk it all not for personal gain, but upon the idea that men and women of all description have the natural, Creator-endowed right to be free? 

Ah, it is said, they wrote that "all men" are created equal. James Madison, writing in 1790 to his friend Thomas Jefferson, believed "As the earth belongs to the living, not to the dead, a living generation can bind itself only." The Founders, declaring their right to liberty, also understood that future generations would define for themselves what the lofty principles they expressed would mean. So we have, and so we continue to do.

Happy Independence Day.

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