Independence is a lovely, liberating word. It is a word only tyrants can fear and despise. We Americans know it is also the word and the concept for which the founders of our nation pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. It is a wonderful thing to celebrate each Fourth of July.
Unfortunately, independence is not something that was won, once and for all, 231 years ago when it was declared by Congress, nor 226 years ago, when it was won on the battlefield at Yorktown, nor even 218 years ago when the Constitution of the United States was ratified. It is an ongoing struggle on the domestic stage as well as in the world at large.
Many of the issues that are up for debate and battle today were described in that marvelous document approved and signed in the heat of summer in Philadelphia in July, 1776. To read that document again is to be reminded that tyranny walks the land like one of Dickens’s ghosts — dead and buried, but alive in spirit and conspiring with the living to preserve and extend the reign of misery among men. Does this line sound familiar?
"He has erected a multitude of new offices and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance." "He" in that sentence, and throughout the Declaration of Independence, refers to King George of England. But it might also refer to our current or any number of previous presidents whose appetite for power has transformed our constitutional form of self-rule into a bureaucratic tyranny and our once peaceful republic into an empire ever at war.
"He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power." Our own "King" George has attempted to stifle dissent from his war of aggression in Iraq by claiming any criticism thereof, even by members of the Congress — nay, especially by members of the Congress — is disloyalty to the troops and an attempt to supplant military judgments — which are true and righteous altogether — with political judgments, which are base, vulgar and popular.
Recall, too, that George "the Shrub" has claimed and exercised the right to spy without judicial warrant on the people’s international phone calls on the grounds that he is commander in chief. And he has used that same title to justify his usurpation of the power of the courts by arresting and holding indefinitely, without charges, those whom he has designated "enemy combatants." Thus our own King George should be rebuked "For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury…"
"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his consent to their pretended acts of legislation." Well, when George "the Shrub" is more eager to take up arms to enforce UN resolutions than the United Nations is, you have a pretty thorough effort to subject us and the rest of the world to a foreign jurisdiction. And when the Supreme Court in this country bases its own rulings in part on the judgments of courts in Europe and even in the "Third World," citing the rulings of those tribunals as precedent, we have become, once again, subject to a "jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws."
Did England’s George III issue signing statements when he wished to override by extralegal means laws not to his liking? Perhaps not, but King George “the Shrub” certainly has. "He has refused to assent to laws, most necessary and wholesome for the public good."
Well, despite our best intentions, here we are again. London, a news report says, has more surveillance cameras than any other city in the world. ("Big Brother is watching.") And the United States has George Bush, Dick Cheney, the CIA, the FBI, a complaint press and a "loyal opposition" made up of Democrats who know not how to oppose nor how to find a principle, other than pragmatism, to which they can be loyal. The last time freedom was this much imperiled, colonists disguised as "merciless savages," as the "wild Indians" were then known, threw tea into Boston Harbor.
Paul Revere, call your office!
Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.