Many years ago, in my role as a high school teacher of U.S. Government, I had the unique opportunity that allowed me to experiment–teach one and only one concept, one document to one group of kids for the entire school year. We studied the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson–attempting to understand and apply the lesson of freedom to our lives in the process.In my study, I was amazed at how complicated the idea of freedom could be; how difficult it was to obtain, easy to lose and nearly impossible once lost to regain. If we, like Jefferson believed, are born with certain rights that cannot be taken away, how do we, from time to time, find that which makes us free becomes diluted in our own minds, if you will? How do we seek independence from what controls us in order to once again sense the freedom that God or Nature’s laws endowed in us? Thinking about freedom once again on a day in which we celebrate independence, I thought I might share my own view on what it means to declare one’s independence, with Jefferson’s words, as my muse.
I stated Jefferson’s original words in italics, then my adaptation below each section of his work hoping to apply Jefferson’s ideas to our individual lives. [Note: The word “control” replaces “government”, since that which we give our power could be either animate or inanimate, and from which we are now inclined to declare our independence. Furthermore, “I” is substituted for “We” in most cases to personalize Jefferson’s ideas.]
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.
During my Life, I may be forced to break the Chains of Control, which have connected me to something or someone. First, I seek among the Powers of Nature, a place where I perceive the Equality to which the laws of nature and Nature’s God provides me. Because I respect our Fellow Man, I am required to state formally the Causes that now force me to separate.
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.
I know these Truths are easily seen or understood, that all Men are created equal, that they are provided by the GOD OF THEIR UNDERSTANDING, Rights that are beyond doubt and cannot be violated by anyone or anything. Among these Rights are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to make safe these Rights, I Agree to Empower Someone or Something. At any time, if This Power begins to degrade or destroy my God given rights—Rights that can neither be broken nor denied—it is My Right to change or rid myself of this Power, and to bring into being a new Power based on the ground of such Natural, God-given truths, and arrange or shape these Powers in such a way that may seek the greatest likelihood of restoring my 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. Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. 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.
Without a doubt, I am commanded to be painstakingly careful not to change what controls me for trivial or passing Causes; yet all experience has shown, that Mankind is more likely to suffer, even though suffering is evil, than to correct themselves by doing away with the Shapes or Structures of Control to which they are used to. But after being Abused and Taken From without permission or by Force Again and Again, seeking constantly the same goal of reducing my person under their total control, it is my Right, my Responsibility, my Obligation to toss off such control, and to install new Protection for my future Safety. I have suffered without complaint and now, I have no choice, but to forcibly change my past forms of control. My Experience under the current Shape of Control or Controller is a History of never-ending Hurt and Forced Taking, all which have the single goal of bringing about Total Control over Me, which is unfair, painful and unrelenting in its suffering. To prove this, let the facts (i.e. truth) be revealed to a world that is both rational and trustworthy.
At this point in the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson stated the facts for his declaration beginning with: HE has refused, forbidden, endeavoured to prevent, obstructed, deprived, abolished, suspended, abdicated, plundered and constrained…
You might add to these clauses, to make a list of your own facts or reasons for Declaring your Independence from that which or from whom you have given control and now seek independence.
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.
At every instance of that which has kept or weighed me down, I have submitted in writing, and in line with the rules of the day, a request to make right, using only words that are absent of pride and self-importance. My repeated, honest pleas have been met only by more forced loss. Anyone or anything seen as outstanding or excellent in their thoughts and acts that instead, clearly show themselves to be cruel and unjust is not meant or qualified to have control over my free person.
NOR have we been wanting in Attentions to our British Brethren. We have warned them, from Time to Time, of Attempts by their Legislature to extend an unwarrantable Jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the Circumstances of our Emigration and Settlement here. We have appealed to their native Justice and Magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the Ties of our common Kindred to disavow these Usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our Connexions and Correspondence. They too have been deaf to the Voice of Justice and of Consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the Necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the Rest of Mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
I have not been lacking in Bringing to Light my concerns: I have warned them and others, from Time to Time, of their Attempts to extend Control over me that cannot be Explained or were Authorized. I have reminded them of the Facts surrounding my previous Leaving from one place and why I now Live in my current place. I have seriously pleaded to their sense of Justice, Forgiveness and Generosity to which they are accustomed, and brought attention to our similarities, to stop supporting these seizures that will certainly interrupt our Connections and Communication, with no relief. They too have been unable to hear our voice of fairness and close relations. I have no choice, but to announce our Separation, and view them, as I do all others, Enemies in conflict, in Peace Friends.
WE, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, 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 Connexion between them and the State of Great-Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of Right do. And for the Support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour.
I, therefore, appealing to the GOD OF MY UNDERSTANDING for the correctness of my intentions, do in all Goodness, solemnly Write and State Formally, that I am, and of Right, ought to exist Freely and Independently; that I have full power to undertake conflict, make peace, make friends, make money, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT PERSONS may Rightly do. And for the Support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of DIVINE GUIDANCE, I pledge my Life, Fortune and sacred Honor.
Happy Fourth of July, everybody. May freedom reign from sea to shining sea. May that freedom bring forth peace and happiness that knows no end.
Photo Credit: Art Baird, Creative Marbles Consultancy 2012