by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author’s program note. She made the request as if she thought I might deny it, as if I might deem it inappropriate for a business website. However, if she thought this, she didn’t think it for long. “Of course you should read the Declaration of Independence in the Live Business Center. I’m only irritated that I didn’t think of it myself.” And thus did Barbara Buegeler, Senior Monitor in Worldprofit’s LBC, do what every Citizen should do one day each year this day: that is not just to think about this exalted document, but to actually read it aloud as our ancestors used to do, beginning on July 4, 1776.
Sadly, most people do nothing, no thought, no reading, no consideration at all of one of history’s signature documents, the document that laid the revolutionaries’ case, our case, before the bar of public opinion worldwide, thereby not only alerting our English masters that a new reality was at hand, but every oppressive government wherever it might be, not just then but forever after.
And so the lady from rural Texas began to read, each word famous, but some touched by God Himself…
“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 this 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.”
Having thus forthrightly stated their risky intentions through the genius of young Thomas Jefferson (just 33 at the time he put quill pen to paper) the members of Congress assembled; each now a marked man, a man venturing everything that makes life comfortable and sweet, thrilled to the riff each hoped would unify 13 fractious colonies; the riff that would forever brand George, by the Grace of God, King as the very archetype of tyranny, when in fact he was anything but.
To make his point and to foment the revolution to which he and his resolute colleagues were committed, he did what all revolutionaries do: he contorted the truth. He exaggerated, misstated, rearranged, and reshaped, the better to achieve his treasonous goal. For make no mistake about it, these were men who were playing for the biggest stakes and were betting everything on being right, for the consequences were staggering if they were not, for each one individually and for all collectively.
And so Jefferson, a world-class propagandist, gifted with the power of words, took sharp aim at his anointed sovereign, never mind that hapless monarch and the monster of iniquity conceived and portrayed by Jefferson had virtually nothing in common. No matter.
Thus, at least 18 times in prose that grew in harshness and intensity with each new clause beginning “He has…”, Jefferson walloped his king and liege lord, the man, he asserted, who never tired of menacing, upsetting, exasperating and even destroying the colonies which were the jewels in his imperial crown. Thus….
“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary to the public good”… to… “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.”
It was splendid, masterful invective, broad, audacious, designed to outrage and turn every colonial, no matter how disengaged, loyal and pacific, into a fervent partisan, a new breed called Americans.
However, there was a problem, a big problem. The real king George III and Jefferson’s bogeyman were not the same person… no way. How to handle this conundrum? Lie. For after all, if a man is proposing treason, what matter a lie or two? You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.
About the King, a true revolutionary himself.
But if Jefferson had carefully distorted his facts, sometimes in degree, sometimes in veracity, sometimes by a word or two of artful arrangement, sometimes false in every particular, who then was the man for whom his subjects worldwide sang “God Save The King”?
That man, George William Frederick (1738-1820) was the product of revolution, the heir of revolution, the living pledge of revolution and the man whose very life confirmed that the promise and settlement of the great and Glorious Revolution of 1688 abided; that the sovereign reigned but ruled as little as Parliament allowed, and that year by year was less and less.
For this revolution, lead by renegade aristocrats, assured the final victory of Parliament over Crown, thus turning this Crown, however radiant and burnished into the creature of the people and their potent legislature, from whence came everything, including whatever colonial policy they thought best, whatever obstreperous colonials might think.
And this presented Thomas Jefferson with a stupendous, daunting problem which would surely have confounded and thwarted many a lesser man. What’s more Jefferson had many other things on his always active mind. For one thing, he was physically uncomfortable as all the delegates were. It was insufferably hot in Philadelphia those crucial days of argument and revolution. Delegates grew irritable from tossing night after miserable night, unable to find the rest they sorely needed for matters of such high
Worse, they discovered the tenacious presence and bite of bed bugs, determined creatures, no respecters of persons or causes, savoring the flesh of delegates, happy in their work.
Then there was the matter of his parlous financial condition. Throughout his long life, Jefferson lived like the wealthy man he never was. He spent money he didn’t have, borrowing money he had no way, and perhaps no intention, of paying back. He was well acquainted with duns pestering him for long overdue sums. And so it was in Philadelphia, where its many Quaker residents curiously adhered to the quaint notion that what was borrowed needed to be repaid in timely fashion, a point of view entirely
foreign to Jefferson, a man of careless finances and high living.
But there was another reason, too, and that was his beloved wife, Martha Wayles Skelton, who was a 23-year-old widow when he married her January 1, 1772. Theirs was a love match with all that entailed and in the long, uncomfortable nights he missed her to the core of his ardent being and longed for her passionate embraces. Remember, he was just 33…
However, the revolution needed him and so he put his genius to work crafting the words of revolution. Fortunately he had opponents who were not remotely as gifted in that department, opponents who failed to answer Jefferson and his colleagues, and so lost the crucial battle for hearts and minds. Jefferson made a brilliant case; his opponents relied on their established rights and disdained the messy business of human persuasion. And this wasn’t remotely good enough…. as the loyal royalists learned to their eternal detriment and rue.
This brings us to the very antagonist Jefferson might have wished to have…
Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, Knight of the Garter, Privy Councillor (1732-1792) known to history by his courtesy title, Lord North, the man who, along with his dread lord, threw away the greatest of empires. His tenure in office running from 1770 to 1782 was disastrous for the Crown and the greatest possible benefit to Jefferson and the Great Republic which grew from the great Declaration. In short Jefferson and his colleagues lucked out, and as Napoleon later said, “Give me the lucky man.” That was most assuredly Jefferson, most assuredly not North.
And the sad thing is, North knew it and often begged his sovereign for permission to resign. But the King wanted a man as prime minister he trusted, and that was North, a man of no vision, no knowledge of Americans and the colonies, without empathy, inspiration or the ability to cut a deal that would keep them British. He pleased the king and so his majesty kept the man congenial to him, catastrophic to his realm. How Jefferson, brilliant, dazzling, splendid Jefferson must have whooped at his unrivalled fortune in having such a hack, such a mediocrity as his opponent…
Thus was the greatest empire sundered; thus did the Great Republic grow apace, the one lead by the blind and inadequate, the other driven by determination, brains, and growing expertise in the artistry of revolution. In such circumstances, the English could not prevail; they had so little to offer whilst the revolutionaries promised everything including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, the hand that trumped
“God Bless America!”
Thus we arrive at today by stages short and long, difficult and easy, losing and winning, proud and abasing. But always important and influential for such is our destiny, and we must play it out. But I have this question for you, my reader, my every reader. How can we do so with massive ignorance about who we are, where we came from, what we have done and why it matters, for that is our painful and dangerous situation today when so little is known of America and that little so often wrong. How long can we sustain our might and mission under such enfeebling circumstances… and how can we possibly help the world and be that bright city while presenting such a poor and tawdry example?
That is why I urge you to read the great Declaration aloud and help rescue the Great Republic from her sad plight today, so dangerous, so inglorious, so abashing in every way.
Then go to any search engine, and find Irving Berlin’s great hymn to the Great Republic, “God Bless America,” first written in1918, revised in 1938. I recommend the stirring version by Kate Smith, a chanteuse who belted it out and brought a tear to the eye of every true American, every lover of freedom, and every citizen trustee for our great story,
“Through the night with a light from above”.