Independence Day is a day of tradition for most Americans — spending time with family, soaking in the sun, enjoying a cold beverage (or a few), swimming, boating, and watching fireworks, it’s a day of overall fun and relaxation. Lost in the fray of the customary 4th of July festivities is something of great importance and reverence, the Declaration of Independence. With the United States of America’s 237th birthday fresh in the mind of Americans, it is prudent to look back at this document and review the founder’s declarations.
The Declaration of Independence begins:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another… a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
These words, authored by the Virginian Thomas Jefferson in July of 1776, kick off the Declaration of Independence and lay the foundation for the rest of the document. In it, Jefferson asserts that governments are created in order to secure the unalienable human rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness — if governments are to breach upon them, it is the duty of the people to abolish these contraventions and restore the safeguards to their natural rights. Further, Jefferson proclaimed the British Crown had enacted “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations” to these rights and provides a long list of harms against the American colonies.
Over the next few weeks, in an effort to better understand the need for American independence, I will examine the despotic actions of King George III listed by Jefferson and the founders. Not only will this be a lesson in history, but it will allow for a look into the minds of the Founding Fathers as to why they felt they were living under a tyrannical regime.
Jefferson begins the list of assaults by describing how King George III continually refused to recognize laws passed by the representative legislatures in the Colonies. More specifically Jefferson writes:
“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”
“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.”
“He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.”
The first two indictments may be summarized briefly. The First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia from September 1774 through October of that same year. The conclusion of the convention produced a long list of rights and grievances towards the British Parliament that was to be presented and addressed by King George. The declarations of the First Continental Congress went largely ignored which led to further frustration in the colonies and eventually to its inclusion in the Declaration of Independence.
Representation in colonial assemblies was a privilege granted to the people by the King and that is the basis for the third charge. The colonies of Virginia, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and New York had all attempted in increase the number of elected officials within their assemblies. As the colonists found this as their right, to have a self-elected, representative government, they were reduced to tyranny when the King of Great Britain disallowed these actions. This action of the King was likely taken in an attempt to deter the colonies from gaining too much independence from the Crown. The colonies were a great source of revenue for Great Britain as well as an important cog in their wheel of empire — if Britain were to lose the colonies they would be at risk of losing an important piece to their expansive empire.
The Declaration of Independence is a great legal and historical document which all Americans should acknowledge and understand. My next piece will feature more history behind the British usurpations, so be sure to check back for more.