In our Declaration, the past speaks to America’s present

As we celebrate the 242nd anniversary of the United States’ Declaration of Independence from the empire of King George III and Great Britain, the most rightfully famous words Jefferson, Adams and Franklin penned are found to begin the communique’s second paragraph: “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.”

Most Americans are quick to look at this sentence as the foundation for all the freedoms we enjoy as a people, even though this mission statement is found nowhere in any document that codifies our rights. That said, these words are, indeed, the first principle of our national
identity.

There are, however, many other sentences worthy of consideration for their wisdom.

For example, as we have been debating how immigration should be handled, consider these words:

“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.”

There are several very important points being made.

First, is that it was in the economic interest of the colonies to promote immigration. Whether for agriculture, manufacturing or settling the land, the Continental Congress, as a united body, clearly thought it was necessary to “encourage” migration.

Second, regarding how the immigration issue should be handled, the Congress clearly was more interested in making their own laws regarding who could and could not come and make a life here – not dictates from a parliament (or king), in which they were not represented, an ocean away.

Third, consider that the topic even made it into the list of grievances the colonists made. Are we so different in their concerns? The precise circumstances or issues surrounding immigration today may be different from then, but it is a bit comforting to know that immigration has always been a sensitive and difficult subject to tackle.

Another clause jumped out at me when rereading the Declaration. While this statement was directed at how their leader was treating them, there is a lot to be said for how we as individuals should relate to others.

“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.”

When our founders designed our system of government, they did give us, a free people, the rights to petition and change our government. While we sometimes think we’re ruled by princes and princesses in a far-off land called Washington DC, we do have the right to make changes without the need to “water the tree of liberty” with blood.

But take that above statement away from government and politics and apply it to general life.

Whatever the organization – from business to a team to a family – if you have made your concerns known respectfully to the leader (or the boss), and those concerns are continuously and unceremoniously rebuffed, what’s the point in staying in the relationship? In fact, that kind of toxicity demands change.

While the language has changed slightly over 200 years, the principles for why the colonists felt mistreated by their government as subjects and as human beings remain as relevant as ever. Take some time to read and think about it again. You will not only appreciate the causes for which the signers pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor but gain perspective that there really isn’t much new under the sun.


This column appears in The Princess Anne Independent News