The Tree of Liberty

It is once again the 4th of July, the 237th anniversary of the day the United States told England we would look after ourselves from now on. We broke the barrier between philosophy and practice and emancipated a new country founded on the philosophical ideas of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; among them being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” Those are bold words, bolder still from a collection of colonials to a king. They are the mantra of America, perhaps the best known words from the Declaration of Independence. They define the benefits of prescribing to the American philosophy, that all beings are essentially free and equal in the eyes of God. However, I am not going to discuss them here. I honor them and know their importance, but there are a few other words from the Declaration of Independence that I think are more pertinent today. “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.”

These are words of revolution. These are the other side of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: they are the responsibilities of those who have been endowed by the Creator. Just because something is yours by rights does not mean you will keep it always. The world is unjust, and thieves come in many shapes, but are inherently all the same. They do not care what is law, what is right. No arguments about laws and rights will affect those who do not recognize them. It is not for them to keep them, what do they care for the rights of others? They don’t have to. We do. Rights only mean anything if we choose to respect them and laws only have power if we obey, thus all power in government is derived from each person. If we willingly obey tyrants, we give them power. That obedience is not always a yoke around our necks, breeding resentment. It often comes in the forms of gifts, breeding complacency.

In past century, America has been diverted from the course it was set on at its founding. The concept of rights has been perverted in such a way that there is a right for everything we want but at the expense of the true rights that make us free. It is suddenly the citizen’s right to never want for anything, to feel no distress, to have every convenience but no responsibility in gaining them. We have those at the expense of the right to property: to keep what we earn and put it to whatever use. At the expense of liberty: to speak, believe and do as we will so long as it does not infringe on the true rights of others. It may not seem like we live in an age of tyranny. We are blessed! Our government takes care of us! Judges stop us from being unfair! Experts make sure everything is orderly and that we are safe! What is liberty compared to leisure? “Prudence, indeed would dictate that governments long established should be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Some are pleased to have the benefits of a large, benevolent government. Some always are: those who are favored by the ruling class rarely wish to give up that favor. The rest often choose to suffer in silence, or grumble under their breaths or even criticize loudly, but when asked to do something about it, to put their money where their mouth is, enthusiasm fizzles like a firework on a wet lawn.

The British gave us things as well, like their protection. After the French and Indian War, as repayment for protecting us, new taxes were levied and we were prevented from expanding into the territory we won. Paltry gifts for which England wished to charge and it kicked off a decade of tension before the thirteen American Colonies became thirteen United States. Now, we are being given even more by our government, services that incur much higher debts for us to pay. Two-hundred and thirty-seven years after we declared ourselves free, I think we should consider the declaration of our freedom as much as the ideas that inspired it. We may need to do it again someday.