“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.”
The frequently quoted and memorized part of the Declaration of Independence begins:
“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 flawed, problematic, and exclusive section is The Preamble. If we know anything of the Declaration of Independence, we know that part.
Though I was a history major in college, I’m not a very capable Historian with a “Capital H”. But I try, and thought that maybe today, July Fourth, would be a good day to read the whole Declaration of Independence*, while drinking my morning coffee.
The less-celebrated and much wordier section, but also more interesting and meatier, is commonly called the “The Indictment”. Unless you are Heather Cox Richardson** you probably haven’t read it, at least not lately. I hadn’t. The Indictment is the laundry list of complaints against King George III.
My current list of grievances, which I would include in my fantasy indictment, include:
- Botching the pandemic response, resulting in the deaths of thousands.
- Police brutality and systemic racism on full display. The resulting uprisings show that the majority in this country are finally realizing that the government may be working for some of us, but it’s definitely not working for all of us.
- Trying to get the Supreme Court to overturn its own law (the ACA) that provides healthcare to millions, in the middle of a pandemic.
- Actively suppressing the vote, resulting in voters standing in line for hours, in the middle of a pandemic.
- Capitalism run amok.
It’s not hard to come up with five examples, but it is hard to come up with only five.
The list of grievances against King George III was quite long too:
|“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 of 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 meantime 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 harass 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 benefit 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.”
Look familiar? When historians try to comfort us by saying “don’t worry, we’ve been here before”, I tend to get pissed off and shout “Maybe we’ve been here before, but I have not been here before, and this is bad!!” Reading The Indictment this morning gave me both an odd comfort in that we have been here before (and gotten through it), and also fear and frustration in the realization that we have been here before. How many more times will we screw it up before we finally get it right, or at least closer to “right”? How many chances do we have before we’ve lost all of our chances?
Although this is not 1776 and we may not be on the cusp of a full-fledged revolution, we are living in a moment, we are on the cusp of SOMETHING. We could start by electing ourselves a new government in November. A new government won’t fix our broken democracy, only continued citizen uprising and an engaged citizenry will do that. Only “we the people” can bring on a fully-functioning democracy. Compiling a mere list of grievances is not enough. We are the ones to turn that list into a country where all of us have Unalienable Rights, such as Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. And more.
All of us.