Declaration of Independence: A Fisking
A conservative blogger's perspective on the Declaration of Independence.
I wrote the piece below on this date in 2006. Occasionally, I repost it on Independence Day. Some of the jokes are dated and only make sense if you remember the blogosphere and political debates of the day.
Today marks the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Jim Lynch sent out an email to several of us asking us to blog the event as if we were there. Thus, the following Fisking of the Declaration.
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.
Jefferson has buried an obviously untrue assertion after a rather longwinded series of unsubstantiated premises. [And what’s with the capitalization? Is Course a proper noun now?-ed.] Is it really necessary to dissolve our political bonds? Really? Does the earth have powers? [And why isn’t “earth” capitalized? Surely, it’s closer to being a proper noun than “course.”-ed.]
Regardless, Jefferson provides no proof that there’s a “Creator,” much less that he’s endowed us with any rights, inalienable or otherwise. And, rather obviously, that’s untrue. One has to know very little history to realize that “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is hardly Man’s natural condition. And the idea that “all men are created equal” is simply laughable on its face. For example, I’d have a lot more difficulty impinging on people’s “inalienable” “rights” than, say, King George III.
–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.
This contract theory of government is interesting but hardly comports with reality. Governments are generally created by brute force, with precious little consultation with “the governed.” And, even if we grant that premise for the sake of argument, how exactly are we to ascertain that the masses think the government–let alone its “Form”–is destructive to the Big Three rights that are simultaneously inalienable and about to be destroyed? Presumably, such a government would not have elections that would include ordinary landholders, let alone serfs and indentured servants. (Perhaps Ben Franklin could invent a communications device utilizing “electricity” and people could be randomly sampled?-ed.]
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.
Shorter Tom Jefferson: Treason is bad.
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.
What whiny nonsense. The King has just sent the best army in the history of the planet over to defend his subjects from armed Indians–banded with the bloody French, no less. All he’s asking for in return is that we pay a tax on newspapers, tea, and whatnot. That hardly seems unreasonable. It’s so typical of the Left to undervalue security and to expect it to be provided without trade-offs.
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.
The King is, well, the King. Parliament is largely an advisory body; George III is the decider.
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.
Again, he’s the king. Jefferson and company should be reminded that these are colonies granted under charter from His Majesty.
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.
Again, these are colonies. And England is a long ride from here. Furthermore, in the grand scheme of things, how much difference would a couple of seats in Parliament make, given that we’d be outvoted by domestic interests?
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.
Wah. Is the poor parliamentarians tired? Do they need a nap?
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
(That sounds kind of dirty.-ed.) Since we’re not represented in Parliament anyway–see the earlier whine–what difference does it make?
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.
Dude: We’re colonies of the United Kingdom, not “States.” The UK is a State; Virginia is a trading outpost.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
I think we’re supposed to be listing separate and distinct grievances here, gents. This is essentially the first one over again.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
That’s pretty much the same one again, too. And, really, who likes activist judges anyway?
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
You’re probably the same people who complain about long lines at the Department of Horse-drawn Vehicles, too.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
Well, we are his colonies. And we’re surrounded by savage Indians and renegade Frenchmen and 3000 miles from home. Do you really want to disband the military under those circumstances?
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
Meaning what, exactly? Surely, it’s still subordinate to the commander-in-chief? You mean the local mayor’s office? The colonial governors? Why would they have any authority over the Royal Military?!
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:
He’s the king. His laws are your laws.
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
You wanted the troops unarmed? Or unquartered?
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
The king’s troops are subjected to the king’s law; not that of the colonies they’re sent over to protect. It would be sheer madness to put them in harm’s way and then have local passions govern their punishment if they make a mistake.
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
I hate to keep repeating myself here but we’re British Colonies. England has financed the creation, settlement, building, and defense of this vast empire. And now, when they’re finally starting to produce something of value, they’re supposed to compete on an equal basis with the bloody Frogs and Dutch?
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
Why does he need your consent?
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
Okay, I’ll admit this is uncool. But how many is “many”? And what were the circumstances? Sometimes, national security needs trump individual liberty.
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
I don’t know what the hell this means; you’ll need to be more clear.
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:
Render unto Caesar and all that.
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
Whose colonies are they again?
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
Isn’t this the same complaint again?
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
You can’t simultaneously complain that he’s providing too much government and not enough. Pick one. And you can’t force his hand into using the military to enforce his laws by refusing to obey said laws and then use that fact in evidence as to why you don’t think you should have to obey his laws.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
No, he hasn’t. You’re still here writing this tripe, aren’t you? And, again, they’re his seas, coasts, and towns. You want your own? Be born into royalty in your next life.
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.
Why is he doing this? Because you rich jerks don’t want to pay your fair share of taxes. You’ve made life much more miserable in the short term, claiming that you’re doing it for the little guy, when in fact you’re hurting them. My guess is that, if you could somehow beat the Royal Army and Navy in a fight, that you’ll wind up being the guys in charge. And I suspect you won’t exactly try to operate without taxation. Nor will all men be treated as equals, I’d wager.
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.
Which country is it that’s “their” country again? I get confused.
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.
Uh, it’s the king who’s doing this? How, pray tell, is he doing that? And you’re the guys who think you’re living in a peaceful condition that doesn’t require a standing Army. Who you wouldn’t want quartered amongst you, anyhow. Jerks.
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.
Humble, eh? Like that little “tea party” in Boston? Like the terrorist “Sons of Liberty” and their tarring and feathering, not to mention lynchings?
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.
So, you issue seditious threats, force the king to crack down to establish the order which is the actual reason “Governments are instituted among Men,” and then use the crackdown as evidence that he’s not playing nice?
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.
Now, is this “divine Providence” the same “Creator” who made us all equal and with those inalienable rights? Why doesn’t he just de-alienate them with his magic mojo?
And that’s nothing compared to how the Left would have blogged it! Maybe it’s a good thing blogs–and the New York Times–weren’t around in those days. . . .
JJ’s right. Let’s call the whole thing off!
(Though of course, rather than “the Left,” I’m put in mind of what PowerLine would’ve done with the Declaration. Maybe we should just be grateful there was no Internet and less leisure time.)
Anderson: I can just hear the “Jefferson lied us into war” talk now, though. And, “Elections? Big deal! There’s still violence. At least George III kept law and order.”
But of course, this is a quote from a Republican, so the left can’t agree with it.
Excellently well written, James.
Now put the NRO masthead on it and Jonah Goldberg’s byline and you have a perfect counterpoint to the NYT spoof further down the main page.
Having grown up in Scotland, I studied my American Revolution history from the other end and I have to say you are pretty much spot on with what conservative Crown Loyalists were saying at the time – the only major difference is that rather than question a Creator’s existence they flat declared that the Creator declared the divine right of Kings rather than all men were created equal – it was in the Bible (e.g. the line of David) and to argue otherwise was revisionist and probably blasphemous.
Please recall too, that it was the LEFT wing of British politics at the time that supported the rebels (eventually – they were mostly for the war before they were against it) and meant an end to the war became negotiable. Otherwise, the Empire would have just kept sending more and more troops until they crushed the rebellion.
Few Americans stop to consider just what vast resources the Empire had at the time. The American rebellion was never as important politically as India or the French and mostly second-line troops and commanders were assigned. However, after the French were contained the Empire had plenty of punch left over to retake the Americas if the progressives hadn’t won the debate back in Britain.
This is just brilliant stuff, James.
Ah…that would be 230th anniversary, not 240th.
Pretty good job here though. I know it is hard for conservatives to come to grips with the obvious reality, that it was the conservatives of the time who were opposed to the Revolution, just as conservatives of all time, by definition, oppose every advance that society makes, until that advance has triumphed to such a degree that it becomes part of the endowment that conservatives are tasked to defend.
Of course this reluctance to embrace any advance is a valuable contribution in that it inhibits advances that really are bad ideas. And the inhibitory effect on good advances are usually overcome by the manifest goodness of real progress.
On this day of national celebration perhaps we could suspend for a moment the mutual disdain that colors every other day in the political arena, and recognize that in this society, as in all other successful societies, the natural instincitve liberal impulses and the natural instinctive conservative impulses interact necessarily to propel the society forward, but in a mangeable and self correcting manner. A world without conservatives would spiral out of control pretty quickly. A world without liberals would stagnate and go extinct. It is the role of conservatives to defeat the bad ideas of liberals, and it is the role of good liberal ideas to triumph over the conservative inertia.
We need each other to play our self-appointed roles, and I would suggest that whenever we hear the blanket denunciations of one side or the other (I guess that would be every day) we recognize the profound lack of wisdom of the speaker.
Well, I still can’t send a trackback to you, but I sang your praises here.
The plain fact of it is that the US was born in rebellion. We Canadians never had much problem with Geore III! A few less Boston lawyers would have been a good thing.
The US has been a tremendous success, and without it in its modern form the 20th century would have been even more ghastly than it in fact was. So God save the US!
But please keep the foundation myths to American eyes and ears only.
Tano: Right you are on the math. Given that I remember the Bicentennial very clearly and am only 40, that should have jumped out at me. Correction made.
The commenters posting about the Left/Right, Progressive/Conservative thing make me think of my constant complaint re today’s Left in America. They are counter revolutionaries who wish to return us to the ways of the dark princes of Europe. What does that do to such adages as “the more things change the more they stay the same” and “There is nothing new under the sun”?
The commenters posting about the Left/Right, Progressive/Conservative thing make me think of my constant complaint re todayÃ¢??s Left in America. They are counter revolutionaries who wish to return us to the ways of the dark princes of Europe.
What are you smoking, Scott? Can I have some? Don’t drive for a while, okay?
Yeah, Scott has some good stuff.
James, the Scotsman guy had a damn good point. The Religious Right of 1776 believed in the divine right of kings. George III was ordained to be king by the Almighty God himself. Sound familiar at all?
First of all, Anderson; Scott has the left tagged and your reaction tells the remainder of the story. You’re still in denial.
In any event,
James’ writing, here, goes a long way towards a moving something that I’ve been saying for many years;
The arguments that James uses clearly and correctly identify that Jefferson was making a number of cultural assumptions within his written work.
Indeed, by my reading, Jefferson was speaking the point of view of a then- altogether new culture… the unique AMERICAN culture. Indeed, in many ways, he and his contemproraries founded this new culture. (It has always amazed me that the Democratic party of today uses Jefferson as an icon, when it’s clear they haven’t a clue as to what was the man was about. )
That the cultural ideas and ideals were expressed prior to a new government being formed, says clearly Jefferson understood the relationship between culture and government clearly… That in that relationship, culture comes first. He understood that the King’s government had moved outside the realm of it’s intended purpose… supporting the culture. And was the culture to sruvive, it must shrug off the government that no longer represented it’s people… in favor of one that did.
Culture is by far a more powerful force than government, over time. Indeed; Where governments have gotten themselves into problems over the centuries, is invariably where governments have tried to alter the culture artificially, by means of law. Culture eventually triumphs.
Take communism, as an example. Communism attempts to over-ride the culture and basically outlaw many facets of it.
But, (and this is important) everywhere you saw Communism.. Russia, Cuba, Korea, East Germany you saw the same treacherous *political* ideology, not the cultural values of those societies. And in those places where communism has been overthrown, the former USSR for example, the original culture invariably springs back to life.
So it was with America, in Jefferson’s day; The culture took over. That’s why the Declaration of Independence is such an important document to us, and one major reason it was written first… before the Constitution… It expresses our foundational, cultural point of view, upon which the remainder of our system of government was based.
And, now perhaps, we have a better idea of why the left here in the United States is so bent on altering the culture of the west into something that it is not. They, too, see that simply altering the government isn’t going to affect the kind of changes that they would like to see… one must first changed the foundation that it rests on.
James “challenges” to the wording, and the meaning of the DOI, are humorous because they are accurate in their portrayal of the arguments presented by the left against the traditional American culture… indeed, traditional western culture, today. A story simply is not funny if it doesn’t contain some grain of truth at its core.
And I expect that will upset many.
damned editing errors
I know it is hard for conservatives to come to grips with the obvious reality, that it was the conservatives of the time who were opposed to the Revolution, just as conservatives of all time, by definition, oppose every advance that society makes, until that advance has triumphed to such a degree that it becomes part of the endowment that conservatives are tasked to defend.
Check your history, Tano. Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservatism, opposed George III’s policy in America, to a point just shy of sympathizing with the American revolutionaries. Furthermore, the Constitution that emerged from the Revolution was deeply influenced by conservative thinking, incorporating as it did the best of the English common law and parliamentarianism and what lessons could be gleaned from the experiences of the Roman and Dutch republics. Whether you want to believe it or not, the American Revolution was largely a conservative revolution, to the extent such a thing is possible.
You want a liberal revolution? That’s what we saw in France, and it wasn’t pretty. it also bore precious little resemblance to the American Revolution.
Great article. I’ll be forwarding it around.
As to the comments: the comparisons of the concepts “liberal” and “conservative” to other times is invalid. It is primarily used in self-congratulation, to show “See, ha ha. Those guys you like so much really belong to us.” You can’t extend the terms 50 years, let alone 230. In Hungary in 1986, a hard-core Marxist was called a conservative. Now that same person, with identical beliefs, would be in a party of the left. Liberal and Conservative do not mean quite the same thing in GB that they do in America or Australia. The terms are general, and while they might have clear meanings at any particular time and place – and thus be useful – they are malleable enough that they lose utility.
Really? We’re having a discussion about whether “liberals” or “conservatives” owned the revolution?
Can’t we for one day of the year celibrate the fact that we are all Americans and have a pretty good thing going?
I strongly suspect the founding fathers would have thought the whole liberal/conservative divide we currently are caught up in a load of crap.
James – good post, I like the idea of deconstructing the Declaration from the opposing view. I did trip on the no creator section, as was mentioned before, back then it was the Divine Right of Kings…but those were much more religious times.
**40*** lol….. ya im 39 🙂
Does EVERYTHING have to be about the left/right divide? Cannot even the founding of our country be free of the taint of partisan politics? It’s all well and good to talk about the liberal and conservative views of things, but it seems quite tiresome and silly to inject that into this…
Hey, JJ’s on the right – fvck yeah – track: A Man Can’t Be too Careful What He Signs these Days
Happy Independence Day everyone, May God bless all of America, and the rest of his world too.
I pray that one day the rest of the world will know the freedom that we are provided with by our belief in Grace.
NIce post Tano
@scott and Bithead (ah nice to see you’re name is back) You guys are completely delusional and you never cease to amaze me with the crazy you bring when discussing politics. IT’s too bad you’ve invested so much time and mental energy into demonizing the “left” that you’ll never actually understand the average left leaning person.
@kent The American revolution was very much a liberal revolution that attracted some moderates of the day as you stated..Seriously the very concept of hardcore conservatism requires the conservation of the status quo (which is what is being rebelled against)..
There’s no doubt what we consider left wing and right wing today do NOT match up with the thoughts of people +200 years ago..
You may have intended it as a joke, but you make very telling points against Jefferson. If you genuinely start to critically examine the Whig shibboleths we have been indoctrinated with, Loyalism starts to make a lot of sense.
Can anyone think of a more anachronistically dumb thing to write?
c.red – what drivel – you must be from one of those Un-American parts of America.
Quite amusing. I’d pass it around, but I’m afraid most of the people who share political e-mails (both left and right) don’t tend to have the best humor. Happy belated Independence Day!
Cool beans, cool comment thread
@Franklin: Did I really write that? I have no recollection of it.
You only capitalize it when you’re referring to it as a celestial body; and in that case you don’t use a definite article with it. (e.g.: “What is the distance between Earth and Mars?”). When you use the article (“the earth”, “the moon”, “the sun”) you don’t capitalize it.
The distinction is due to the fact that until recently, it wasn’t known that the earth was of the same class as the other planets and so earth was not considered a name.
@Franklin: The commenter used your email address, so if it wasn’t you, it was a very advanced spoof.
@Stormy Dragon: Right. The critique was in response to the previously-noted tendency to capitalize non-proper nouns that we wouldn’t capitalize today.