Monday, July 04, 2011

At What Price Freedom?

Today, we celebrate the 235th birthday of the United States of America. Today some will have cookouts, eat barbeque, spend time with family and friends, and, in some parts of the country, watch fireworks. Where I live in Texas, we have had less than one-half of our normal rainfall for the year and have had 24 days with temperatures over 100 degrees. So, we won’t be having any fireworks here this year. We’ll have to watch them on television. It just seems so much not like the old July4th celebrations we had once upon a time. Maybe we’ve forgotten the meaning of it all. Maybe we have become cynical about our traditions. And maybe we’ve become disillusioned about our country. There is a spirit of pessimism running throughout America today that I don’t remember experiencing before. Maybe it’s time for a new American Revolution! Maybe it’s time the people from main street to take back their communities. Maybe, just maybe, we can recapture that Spirit of ‘76 that drove our founding fathers to dare to dream of a new nation born of liberty, freedom, and justice. Let’s look at what happened in 1776.

In 1776, a group of 56 men, chosen from their respective states created a nation unlike any that had existed before it and unlike any to be created since. On July 4, 1776, gathered in modest Independence Hall in Philadelphia were the delegates to the Second Continental Congress. There, on that hot summer day, the Declaration of Independence was adopted, and the Colonies that were to become the United States of America became a free, independent and autonomous nation — free from the tyrannical rule of the British crown.

But independence from Britain was not what compelled them to gather in the first place. Independence was not a prevailing sentiment amongst the people who populated the Colonies until early 1776. The Second Continental Congress was a continuation of the First Continental Congress that met briefly starting September 5, 1774, and arose out of the realization within the Colonies that even common justice would be denied them by the “Home Government.” The British government had an avaricious need to replenish their exhausted treasury, and the King and Parliament saw the Colonies as a ready solution to their problem. The idea that taxation and equitable representation were inseparable and too vital to the existence of free people. Thus the Colonists decided it was necessary for a General Council to be created to deliberate on a solution. The First Continental Congress was convened in September, 1774, for this purpose, and out of that first congress formal requests were sent to the King George III and the Parliament to cease the Coercive Acts which had been passed by the British Parliament in response to the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, which was itself a protest of the British Parliaments onerous taxes levied on the Colonies.

The Stamp Act of 1765 was passed by Parliament by which they levied a tax all documents produced in connection with the Colonies — letters, deeds, contracts, invoices, etc — and other impositions of taxes on the Colonies without their consent. These Coercive Acts were intended to punish the Colonies and to assert Parliament’s view that the Colonies were merely servants of the British empire. These acts outraged the colonists and triggered sometimes violent resistence throughout the Colonies. The entreaties of the Fist Continental Congress fell on deaf ears in Britain, where the prevailing response was that increased force upon the Colonies to squelch any thoughts the Colonists may have about their right to govern themselves.

The deliberations of the First Continental Congress were firm: Loyalty to the crown, even though the Colonies were suffering increased oppression. No delegates discussed, even in private conversation, the idea of independence. They concentrated their attention on how best to maintain the integrity of the British realm while at the same time preserving for the Colonies their own inalienable rights. They sent appeals to the King, to Parliament, and to men of conscious and justice in Britain. In response, new oppressions were laid upon the Colonies, including the shedding of Colonists’ blood.

Having failed to convince the British Parliament to accede to the wishes of the Colonies, the Second Continental Congress was convened in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775, which set up and organized a temporary government with an army whose commander-in-chief was George Washington. Still they did not talk of independence. They were arming themselves in defense of their rights under the British Constitution. They were still, at this time, prepared to lay down their arms and declare their loyalty to Britain just as soon as their rights were restored. Their appeals were met by armed mercenaries hired by the British Government from German princes, sent to the Colonies to butcher and kill British subjects for asserting the rights of British subjects!

The Second Continental Congress, which convened on May 20, 1775, was considered by those in attendance as a reconvening of the First Continental Congress, and most of the 56 delegates from twelve of the thirteen Colonies (Georgia did not send delegates until July 20, 1775) to the First Continental Congress attended the Second Continental Congress, and the Second Congress had the same officers as the First Congress. At this point the sentiment was still to attempt to convince the British Parliament and King George III to grant the Colonies more autonomy and to seek reconciliation with Britain, even though the Revolutionary War had already officially begun with the battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775.

The voices of some patriots had already begun to echo across the Colonies calling for independence prior to the two continental congresses. For example, as early as 1773 Patrick Henry speaking to Colonel Samuel Overton about Great Britain said, “She will drive us to extremities; no accommodation will take place; hostilities will soon commence; and a desperate bloody torch will be lit.” Overton then asked Henry if he thought the Colonies were strong enough to oppose Great Britain’s fleet and armies. Henry replied, “I will be candid with you. I doubt whether we shall be able, alone, to cope with so powerful a nation; but, where is France! — where is Spain! — where is Holland! — the natural enemies of Britain? Where will they be all this while? Do you suppose they will stand by, idle and indifferent spectators to the contest? Will Louis XVI be asleep all this time? Believe me, no! When Loius XVI shall be satisfied by our serious opposition, and our Declaration of Independence, that all prospect for reconciliation is gone, then, and not till then, will he furnish us with arms, ammunition and clothing; and not with them only, but he will send his fleets and armies to fight our battles for us; he will form a treaty with us, offensive and defensive, against our unnatural mother. Spain and Holland will join the confederation! Our independence will be established and we will take our stand among the nations of the earth!” Henry’s prediction was very accurate, because this is exactly what happened, including France, Spain, and Holland’s support of the Colonies once the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Having concluded from the repeated insults and retaliation from the British Parliament to the Colonies appeals for justice that the course of reconciliation was hopeless, the Colonies finally arrived at the conclusion that independence was the only solution left by early 1776. In June, 1776, Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, offered a resolution in the General Congress declaring all allegiance to the British crown ended. Starting with North Carolina on April 22, 1776, the colonies began to instruct their delegates to the Second Continental Congress to stand for independence. Massachusetts followed on May 10, 1776, Virginia on May 17, 1776, Rhode Island in May, 1776, Connecticut on June 14, 1776, New Hampshire on June 15, 1776, New Jersey on June 22, 1776, Pennsylvania in June, 1776.

A committee was appointed for the purpose of drafting a Declaration of Independence. The committee members were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. The draft was written by Jefferson with a few verbal amendments from Franklin and Adams and was submitted to the Congress on June 28, 1776. It was brought up for discussion before the Congress on July 1st, and, after several amendments, nine states voted on July 2nd in favor of independence. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was officially signed by John Handcock, the President of the Second Continental Congress, and the Colonies were declared free and independent states. It was engrossed in the official records of the Congress and on August 2, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed by all but one of the fifty-six delegates. Matthew Thornton was the last to sign the document in November, 1776.

On the morning when the historical vote was taken on the Declaration of Independence in Independence Hall, the Hall’s bellman ascended the steps to the steeple. A small boy was positioned below near the door of the Hall to notify the bellman when the vote had been taken. The old man waited and waited and waited. He said to himself, “They will never do it, the will never do it.” Just then a shout rose from below. The little boy clapped his hands and shouted, “Ring! Ring!” The old man took firm hold of the tongue of the bell and swung it back and forth, back and forth a hundred times, all the while shouting, “Liberty to the land and the inhabitants thereof!”

It is time for another clarion call to freedom. Today people all across America are grumbling about how things are going for them. Some are unemployed. Some have lost homes. Some have just flat lost hope. Our government reminds me of the British government in 1776. Those who sit in seats of power seem to not care one whit what the people who elected them want done. They have spent money they did not have, money that belonged to Americans who earned their money to old fashion way by working for it. Now that they’ve spend more money than those American workers provided them, their solution is to tax those same workers some more to raise more money. And they claim that if they don’t get this new tax money, the county will default on its debts — the very same debts they have run up spending someone else’s money. Does this sound any different than the British Parliament and the King? In fact, this sound exactly like them!

This year, 2011, is getting late. If we are to resolve these issues, something has to be done besides the usual “go-along-to-get-along” way of doing things. We need reforms in every area of government. One of the chief things that is different about our time and 1776 is that we hold the power in our vote. Those patriots were fighting a leviathan across the sea which held all the cards and the key to the treasure chest. We hold the key to unlock the door to a successful future for our country. The key is our ballot. In 2010 a lot of people voted to change directions. In 2012 a lot of people will do it again. It is my hope and prayer that there are enough people who are motivated to actually learn about the candidates and overcome their own inertia and work for and vote for the best candidates running in their districts.

It’s time for a change!!!

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