Do me a favor.
Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Sign your name. Take a good look at it.
Now, I want you to be afraid of that signature of yours. I want you imagine that sometime in the very near future armed men are going to come to your house in the wee hours of the night to break down your door just because of that signature. They will drag you away, and bind your hands. Then, without a trial, without any recourse to defend yourself. They will put you on the end of a wooden cart pulled by a mule, place a rope around your neck and while a drummer rattles off a drumroll, move the cart and hang you till you are dead. Your signature just cost you your life. Also cost your family their freedom, their home, all of your property. Your friends will be harassed, maybe even arrested just because they knew you. Extended family member also. Just because you signed a nasty letter to the leader of your country.
We tend to forget history in the United States of America. It’s not one of our strong suits as Americans. Ask any high school kid which subject he or she finds the most boring, they will most likely tell you History.
I wasn’t that kid. I had the good fortune of having one Mr. Ronald Beam as my history teacher. A short stocky man, with red hair and freckles. Mr. Beam was a lover of history, he passed on that love to me and others. He made history funny, entertaining, and mostly, he made it come alive.
Maybe on purpose, or by his sheer comedic style in class, he let me imagine what it was like during important times in my nation’s history. He let me put on those historical figures proverbial shoes.
So, I think about my signature. And so should you.
We have all signed documents of importance. Buying a car, maybe buying a house, or maybe enlistment into the armed services. While important, not one of these documents would brand you a traitor. None of them would put you on a short list of individuals who must be caught and hung for the crime of treason.
Yet a group of men did just that. Put everything on the line for the stupidest of reasons. An Idea.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”
Of course, this isn’t true. If anything, all men (and women) are created unequal. Even back then, the idea that this line applied to women, native Americans, and black slaves, was untrue. Yet the Declaration of Independence, wasn’t just this document. It was a letter, addressed to the King of England. And that line was critically important.
King George III was the King of England at that time. He was also a very religious man. He was also rumored to believe in the ideology of Divine Rights of Kings. Even if that was not accepted in England anymore. Still, the Revolutionaries knew how to push buttons, and by calling for all men to be equal at birth, was a jab. And a good one. The King, they contended, was no better than them.
We miss that in our study of history, and the importance of the document. It was a letter, to a far off King who was above reproach. A King that believed in absolute loyalty to The Crown, and not disobedience of a bunch of Colonials.
We The People…
If you look at the first 10 Amendment of the United States Constitution, you will find what is called the Bill of Rights. Each of these 10 amendments are reactions to Colonial rule. They are guaranteed rights to freedoms that were taken from us under English rule. From the right to complain about how the government is run, to the right of a fair trial. You don’t have to belong to The Church of England to hold a political appointment, nor do you languish in a prison cell awaiting a trial that will never come. You definitely will not be hung for saying you dislike or disagree with your political leaders.
This concept, that regular people, fellow countrymen are our leaders, because we choose them to be, was rather unique back then. That the People, not the government, was the ultimate power. That We the People decide our fate, not Kings in a distant land, nor a Parliament which didn’t represent us directly, but told us that they did.
We The People…well, we kind of forget that from time to time. That those men who signed a letter, put everything on the line, did so, so we can decide our own fate.
A little Revolution now and then, is a good thing…
I’m sorry to inform you that the Revolution didn’t end at Yorktown. Actually, it’s still going on. One unique quality of the United States of America is that we are in a constant state of revolt. Every four years we reshape our collective vision for our nation. We go from Right to Left, from Up to Down. We find those servants willing to direct us in a way we desire. And if they don’t follow the vision they lay out? Well, we can peaceable remove them in the next election.
At the time, this government of the people, by the people, for the people. Was unique in the world. An experiment to see if people can rule themselves. That, we are, under our Constitution, created equality among ourselves. No one is above the law we set forth to govern ourselves.
It’s not perfect, we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. We have also owned up to many of those mistakes and strive to put them right. Our nation isn’t perfect, yet we strive to be. We strive to do our best, improve our lot in life, and the lot of others around the world. We, revolt, and we have never stopped from day one.
So, take a look at your signature. And by doing so, consider those imperfect men who wrote a letter to their King and said he was King of them no more. That they would govern themselves.
And as you look at your signature, consider what they put on the line to sign that letter. The price of failure. And ask yourself this simply question.
Would you have signed it? Knowing failure would have cost you everything? And if not, what would have become of us if they didn’t?