110th Congress (2007-2008)
|Congressional Record article 91 of 2000||Printer Friendly Display – 6,131 bytes.[Help]|
INDEPENDENCE DAY — (Senate – June 27, 2008)
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Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, on Friday, July 4, the United States will conduct the 232nd celebration of Independence Day. On this day, we commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Flags will fly and rousing music will be heard before the faint whiff of gunpowder and thunderous boom of fireworks reminds us of the great struggle that took place to set our Nation upon its course through history.
Amid all the parades, fireworks, and backyard barbeques, it is worthwhile to consider the document itself. The Declaration of Independence is an amazing and powerful manuscript. Phrases in its opening paragraphs are familiar to most Americans: “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 line may well be the most recognizable sentence in American political history. It is certainly among the top 10.
As famous as the phrase “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” is, however, it is not the first sentence of
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the Declaration. The lead sentence reads: “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.” This sentence sets the stage for the body of the Declaration, which lists in some detail the abuses of power that drove the Founders to a war of secession.
Unlike the philosophical goals of life, liberty, and happiness, which Americans today readily understand and revere, the complaints listed in the Declaration rarely fire the popular imagination. But they should. The abuses of the King listed in the Declaration are the very issues that the Constitution strives to prevent. They are the issues that the Bill of Rights specifically protects us against. They are issues, and battles, still being fought today, as the recent debates and court actions over the rights of detainees and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, demonstrate.
Reading the list of the colonists’ grievances paints a vivid picture of life in those times. One can readily imagine the frustrations of a people trying to build a working society, ruled by laws, that welcomes new settlers and that promotes trade and commerce but is continually set back by contempt and indifference. The colonies’ governments are dissolved or are forced to meet in out-of-the-way, uncomfortable places or at times that discourage part-time legislators from attending. Laws are arbitrarily suspended until the King, can rule on them, but he never does provide a ruling. New courts cannot be established unless the King, thousands of miles and months of travel away, will agree to them. Judges depend on the King’s favor for their jobs and their salaries, so they rarely rule against him, anyway. New taxes and new rules from Britain are continually imposed upon the colonists, from stamp taxes to tea taxes, and their complaints about them are met with silence or violence. Large armies are camped among the colonies and take what they demand from the colonists, but they are immune from prosecution for any wrongs they commit. Mercenaries are brought in, and colonists are seized and forced into military service on behalf of the King.
The colonists complain, but the King does not care. The Declaration concludes, therefore, “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.” In the Constitution to come, the Founding Fathers will design a government that limits the power of the executive in order to prevent tyranny by one man, and will protect the rights of the individual against the state. Courts will be independent, and taxes must be levied only by the representatives of the people.
Our Government was expressly designed to prevent anyone from having to live under the same conditions suffered by the colonists. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “In questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
Ultimately, the colonists declared in their Declaration of Independence that “ ….. these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States ….. Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown ….. ” and held Britain, “ ….. as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”
On this Independence Day, the current generation can look back upon those strong, resolute words with pride and gratitude. We would do well to remember the abuses that finally compelled our Founding Fathers to declare war, so that we never let the freedoms that were won for us to be lost. Remember the words of John Adams, who warned that “The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.” He further wrote, “Be not intimidated ….. nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice.” Those are the words of experience, speaking across the ages. This Independence Day, we best honor our legacy by caring for it with the same passion and vigilance that John Adams did.