The declaration

By Jay Jamison

I hope this isn’t the only thing that you read today. Since this issue of The Source has a publication date of July 4, consider reading the Declaration of Independence. The first thing I do in the morning every July 4th is to sit on the front porch with my coffee and read the declaration. With the exception of a few words, like magnanimity (noble, generous) and consanguinity (blood relationship), the 243-year-old document holds up pretty well for modern readers.

Whereas many government documents today go on for hundreds, sometimes thousands of pages, the declaration was composed and debated in Congress in a matter of weeks and in the end, runs 1,338 words, including the document title. As many already know, the text was hand-written on one side of a large sheet of paper, with ample room at the bottom for the signatures of the delegates to the Continental Congress who voted for it, 56 in all. If only Congress could legislate with one-tenth of that brevity today! The members of the Continental Congress who voted for the declaration essentially committed treason against the mightiest empire on the planet at the time. Such an act took tremendous courage. Today, most members of Congress fashion every bill and motion with an eye toward re-election. Compare that with the founders of this nation, who had to worry about being caught, tried and hanged by emissaries of a power that would show no mercy to traitors.

Some people like to point out all the flaws of the delegates to the Continental Congress — and there were many — but in my opinion, the American delegates to the Continental Congress more closely represented the times and the people of those colonies long ago, than any contemporary sitting of the British Parliament had towards the people of Britain. We should also consider the fate of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. During the Revolutionary War, five signers were captured by the British. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two signers lost sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. There is more, but you get the idea. Until peace was established and a new nation was secured, every one of the signers was in great peril. The grisly quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, during the debate and signing of the resolution for independence, pretty much says it all: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Another aspect of the declaration I like to note is that it doesn’t exactly read like some dusty old document. A Ccareful reading of the declaration reveals that the substance of the reasons “for the separation” seems more like the copy in an 18th century newspaper broadsheet. The writing is not a long listing of ancient feuds or grievances. There is a sense of urgency in the language, about alleged abuses that were the policies and attitudes of the British government toward the colonies at the time the document was being composed.

I learn something new every time I read the Declaration of Independence and never regret setting aside a few moments to read it before all the parades, barbeques and fireworks. Even if you don’t get to it on Independence Day, pick up a copy of the Declaration of Independence and read it. You’ll be amazed.

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