Saturday, July 4, 2009

In the Course of Human Events ...

... And the broad perspective of history, Farmer George was rather a sad character than a wicked one. While the first two Hanoverians had nearly the sole virtue of not being Stuarts, George III seems to have been on the whole a rather decent man, if shall we say rather stubborn and pigheaded. And he suffered terribly from what passed for medical science in the 18th century.

But human events took their course, and so:


IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

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.

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. 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.

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.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the
lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

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.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish 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 connections 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.

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 connection 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 Honor.



Related link: In which I speculate on the future of the Glorious Fourth.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was just thinking about the US Constitution. Some of the words used in the text have drastically shifted meaning (Commerce, happiness), others are archaic (Prudence, hath, perfidy), and still others have shifted in such a way that the original context is hard to understand (Too many to list). Unless you're familiar with the language of the era the text is full of traps. I suspect in a generation it will be almost incomprehensible without footnotes. The amendments, associated court rulings, and secondary commentary will be legally more powerful than the original text, simply because the opinions will make more sense than the original.

And don't get me started on your poorly written Second Amendment. A decent editor could have saved you all a lot of shouting from the National Rifle Sales Association.

Ian_M

Anonymous said...

However difficult it may be to read today, it is still clear from the text that our forebearers had more than a legitimate cause for breaking away from what was then the mother country. Perhaps certain modern politicians should pay heed...

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

How are prudence and perfidy archaic? I see them used all the time. Also, hath shows up a lot in poems, so it's hardly a word that has fallen into disuse.

Rick Robinson said...

Ian - There's a whole school of (rightist) constitutional interpretation, 'originalism,' that insists on using only the supposed 18th century understandings - rather selectively, as you might suspect.

The Second Amendment isn't so much poorly written, just rooted in remote assumptions and realities of a remote era. I learned a great deal about it, and the whole Constitution, from reading none other than old Nick Machiavelli - the Discourses, not The Prince. Citizen militia are a very ancient component of republican tradition, however little the classical conception has to do with modern circumstances.


Ferrell - Oh, yes, but general historical experience is that the people who should most learn from it, don't. A good many Brits, such as Edmund Burke, understood the situation rather well, but none of them were setting policy, and the situation was hopelessly beyond poor Farmer George, who ended up doing the sorts of things that got the Stuarts in so much trouble that his family ended up on the throne.

Anonymous said...

"Ferrell - Oh, yes, but general historical experience is that the people who should most learn from it, don't. A good many Brits, such as Edmund Burke, understood the situation rather well, but none of them were setting policy, and the situation was hopelessly beyond poor Farmer George, who ended up doing the sorts of things that got the Stuarts in so much trouble that his family ended up on the throne."

I couldn't agree with you more.

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

I have never seen perfidy used in a modern document except in discussions of the Tridentine Mass. It is apparently also used in military law. In either case it's used as a technical term, not as a common word.

I spend a lot of time with poets. None of them use hath in conversation or in their work. It's been used rarely in the past century, and in every case I've seen it's been used as a deliberate archaism.

Prudence shows up from time to time in business commentary, but more often I see prudent. In either case it means 'this person made decisions that didn't make a lot of money, but didn't lose a lot of money either'.

I'm not trying to be contrary here, I honestly don't hear or see these words used as part of modern conversational or even formal English. And when they are used, they don't carry the sense that they used to. We don't speak the same language as Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, or Paine.

As for Edmund Burke - I can't find the reference, but apparently he fell ill during a critical point in the political debate leading up to the American Revolution. Between the illness and his other political causes Burke just didn't have the energy to really push on behalf of the colonists. Given the situation in France at the time and the long ongoing Troubles with Ireland, plus the Catholic Relief* reforms he Burke worked for, it's probably understandable that he let the distant problems of the colonists slide.

* "For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province..." Roughly translated, 'Whattaya mean you're not going to force the damned French Papists to convert? What's the point to conquering New France if you're going to let them keep their filthy sub-faith?'

Ian_M

Rick Robinson said...

Ian - I know practically nothing of the history of Quebec: basically Wolfe and Montcalm, de Gaulle causing a ruckus, and the referendum. But I remember thinking roughly the same thing about the 'neighboring Province' bit.

The individual archaisms strike me as comprehensible enough. In the future 'militia' may become tricky to grasp, since only in my adult lifetime has it acquired a new common meaning of 'private army.'

But the biggest gulf, really, is that the Declaration and Constitution established many assumptions that are now taken for granted, and far beyond the US. All sorts of countries have formal constitutions, and make some claim of popular sovereignty, however exiguous.

Jim Baerg said...

" * "For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province..." Roughly translated, 'Whattaya mean you're not going to force the damned French Papists to convert? What's the point to conquering New France if you're going to let them keep their filthy sub-faith?' "

While I suppose there was an element of that, retaining French civil law included retaining many illiberal elements of that law. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seigneurial_system_of_New_France#After_the_British_conquest

Also my impression is that the Catholic church was left by the British with many special priviledges with the understanding that the Church would help keep the Canadiens quiet.

I might also note that for a long time both before & after 1776 the Catholic Church was very much an enemy of democracy. Cf: the nasty relationship between the church & fascism.

Rick said...

This is also consistent with my profoundly minimal knowledge of Quebec.

I should add that one of the odd little effects of the Internet was to make me actually aware that there are several million francophone North Americans. Of course I had 'theoretical' knowledge, so to speak, of Quebec, but I was startled the first few times that I came across French language websites and puzzled out that they were Quebecois, not French.

Anonymous said...

Jim, that's a pretty simplistic view of British-French relations in the colonies. It also leaves the Natives completely out of the picture. The British settlements of the era were heavily dominated by land-owners related to the homeland aristocracy, and had fairly illiberal attitudes regarding freedom of religion. If they'd thought they could have purged the Canadiens of Catholicism and the French language, they would have (See also, Acadians). They left the system more or less alone because they didn't have the money or population to do otherwise, and because the French had stronger alliances with the local tribes. The English-speaking settlers felt they had a right to the developed lands of New France but didn't have the strength to enforce that 'right'. So a lot of them fell into a sulk that lasts to this day (See also, Ontario, entire province of).

The seigneurial system also had certain social advantages over the British land-ownership system. Long story short, the seigneurial system had a built in social safety net that created a bottom level of subsistence for all its habitants.

And the British-derived democracies have a long tradition of anti-Catholic thought, dating back to England's troubles with the Catholic Church and the Reformation. Note that it only took eight posts for someone to point out the Catholic Church's flirtation with fascism while ignoring the US's hot date with Hitler. Some members of my family still hold a grudge towards Henry Ford and William Knudsen.

"But the biggest gulf, really, is that the Declaration and Constitution established many assumptions that are now taken for granted, and far beyond the US. All sorts of countries have formal constitutions, and make some claim of popular sovereignty, however exiguous."

When even the worst dictatorships use the language of democracy to describe their operations, it does cause a certain amount of cynicism. When the elected representative and the brutal strongman can both stand before their people and give the exact same speech about respect for the will of the people, you can't blame the people for wondering if the words actually mean anything.

Ian_M

Jim Baerg said...

"Jim, that's a pretty simplistic view of British-French relations in the colonies."

True Ian. It's about as simplistic as your own post, just in the opposite direction. My intent was to point out that the rebels against the Crown had not only irrational prejudice for their position on that issue.

"It also leaves the Natives completely out of the picture."
I'm not going to attempt to defend the English settlers relations with the natives, which are almost indefensible.

"the seigneurial system had a built in social safety net" A lord & peasant relationship is a high price to pay for an admittedly desirable safety net.

"And the British-derived democracies have a long tradition of anti-Catholic thought"

My own position is not so much anti-Catholic as anti-religion. I have much sympathy with Christopher Hitchens' contention that "religion poisons everything". That said I think a reasonable case can be made that as grossly flawed as the Protestant churches may be, they are a step in the direction of freedom & egalitarianism compared to the Catholic Church.

"Catholic Church's flirtation with fascism while ignoring the US's hot date with Hitler."

At least the US's date ended in December 1941. The Catholic church sheltered Nazi's after 1945.

BTW the tone of your post there suggested that you regard 'anti-catholic' as about as respectable as 'anti-Semitic'. Did I misread you there?

Rick said...

I am not going to wade into a discussion of Canadian history about which I am ill informed. But let's all try to minimize friction and resultant waste heat, since we have limited radiator surface to shed it from. :-)

Anonymous said...

Good idea. The internet is a finicky machine, particularly prone to overheating.

Ian_M