Comparing the Declaration’s Grievances to Our Own

Today, July 2, is the anniversary of America’s independence. Though the 4th has been (wrongly) given the distinction, it was on this date in 1776 that the Second Continental Congress voted to approve independence from Britain.

If you haven’t done so lately, consider reading the Declaration of Independence with family or friends and discuss some of its key statements. It’s important we move beyond a superficial celebration and make more meaningful our honoring of what transpired on that fateful day.

Many who read the document skip the middle section, in which the document’s signers listed the “repeated injuries and usurpations” which they alleged were an attempt to establish an “absolute tyranny” over them. “To prove this,” they wrote, “let facts be submitted to a candid world.” And then proceeded the list of 18 grievances for which secession was deemed justified.

The Declaration states that it is our “duty” to throw off—or at least alter—a government that reduces its people “under absolute despotism.” But, it notes, “mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Now in 2014, one wonders if the current state of affairs is better or worse than the point at which the kindling of revolution sparked in 1776.

The colonists argued that King George had refused to approve necessary laws for the public good, had dissolved legislative bodies trying to get the job done locally and had otherwise meddled in domestic affairs. He interfered in immigration processes, delayed appointments of government officials, supported a bad judicial system, created “a multitude of new offices” in government to “harass [their] people,” and maintained militarized government agents in the colonies.

The King allegedly granted significant authority to military officials, subjected individuals to governments of which they were not a part, let criminals go free, micromanaged trade relations, imposed burdensome taxes, disregarded due process and established laws, and “alter[ed] fundamentally the forms of our governments.” He presumed the authority to “legislate for [them] in all cases whatsoever,” assaulted innocent individuals, destroyed livelihoods and lives, and created a system in which Americans were turned against one another, including putting them to death at the behest of the Crown.

Of course, the list I’ve just provided uses modern English and a bit of context to explain the grievances mostly using words that were not chosen by the Declaration’s signers; when one reads their list, with its formal and old English, it’s much harder to relate to what they said. But when explained in words that most people in our day would understand, it becomes a compelling presentation.

Why? Well, because in many respects, things are not much different today. Local control and “state sovereignty” have withered away into nothingness under the unconstitutional centralization of authority within the federal government. As a result, federal authorities have “refused to approve” local attempts to legislate different—even when such laws are “necessary… for the public good.”

Today we witness: judicial problems created and perpetuated by the federal government, such as minimum mandatory sentencing; immigration chaos where bureaucrats break apart families and impose their whims on the lives of hard-working people seeking opportunity; “Czars,” expanding cabinets, employment of nearly three million persons at the federal level, and a “multitude of new officers” that harass us; police militarization exacerbated by the federal government’s funneling of billions of dollars, armed vehicles, and weapons.

We are taxed to a far greater degree than were the colonists, with the average American paying one-third of their income to the government. The federal government no longer operates by limited, delegated authorities, for the courts long ago conferred upon the federal government nearly limitless power through its interpretations of the commerce clause. Politicians in Washington, D.C. have presumed the authority to “legislate for [us] in all cases whatsoever.”

Innocent individuals are targeted and killed as part of the so-called “war on drugs,” or rounded up and incarcerated, without due process and a day in court, as part of the so-called “war on terror.” The president now assumes the authority not only to indefinitely detain people, but to unilaterally assassinate even an American citizen.

One might contest the claim that things today are worse, on the whole, than they were at the time the Declaration was written. It would be difficult to argue, however, that today’s state of political affairs is much better. Sure, if you set aside executive orders and abuses of power, today’s tragedies have come about through a system of supposed representation by elected leaders. Does that justify the violations of liberty that have become institutionalized, or invalidate as a recourse the need to “alter or abolish” the government, as written in the Declaration?

Let me make clear: I’m not calling for an armed insurrection or any sort of violent revolution. I shudder at the thought of this ever happening. What I am saying is that every American needs to do some major soul-searching and ponder why they are “disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable” and when, if ever, they would consider abolishing—hopefully peacefully—”the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Today is an anniversary of radical political action in defense of freedom. Let’s do the day justice by fully considering our own circumstances and how we might likewise fight for freedom from the many “repeated injuries and usurpations” imposed upon us each day.