Becky O’Malley / The Berkeley Daily Planet & The Founding Fathers – 2007-07-03 22:21:23
“As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air — however slight — lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”
~ Justice William O. Douglas
Editorial: Remembering Revolution on the Fourth
Becky O’Malley / The Berkeley Daily Planet
BERKELEY, California (July 4, 2007) — Not in my own youth, but in the Victorian novels I read as a child, it was the custom for Americans at their Fourth of July picnics to read aloud the Declaration of Independence. In the mid and late 19th century the American Revolution was still part of living memory. The older folks at the picnics were still able to summon up the tremendous excitement with which their grandparents and great-grandparents seized their destinies and started a new kind of country in a still-wild place.
These days the 4th is for most Americans just one more holiday, one more reason to waste gasoline driving long distances to play. But for many of us daily conversations, not just on the 4th, now quickly turn to the parlous state of world and national affairs.
There’s a perception that there’s a profound crisis in the American system of government, with the most recent disturbing example being Vice President Cheney’s clear desire to go it alone with no regard for law or Congress. In fact, what many people see these days might be described in the language of the Declaration: “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states.”
Under the circumstances, reading the Declaration of Independence can be reassuring: It’s happened before, Americans dealt with it, and they can deal with it again, without a bloody war this time around, we hope.
Many passages from the Declaration resonate in the present situation, especially the allegations against George III of England which are easily applicable to the current George and his buddy Dick Cheney:
“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” Health care reform, environmental protection … many examples come to mind.
“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…” e.g. the immigration bill stalemate.
“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures…. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.” The national legislature isn’t blameless here, with their quick rubber-stamping of the Iraq invasion, but now they’re recanting, and the executive branch should follow their lead.
“For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments.… For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.”
Sounds like Bush’s attempts to isolate himself from laws passed by Congress with his “signing statements,” or Cheney’s invocation of his own perverted interpretation of executive privilege, doesn’t it?
So, in the words of Russian revolutionaries, what is to be done? Our Declaration advises that “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… But when a long train of abuses and usurpation …. evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government….” Stirring words, attractive logic.
Our e-mail these days is full of heartfelt pleas to jump on the impeachment bandwagon, and it’s tempting. All kinds of normally sensible people like Maxine Waters are now endorsing some kind of impeachment strategy. The best plan would seem to be Attorney General Alberto Gonzales first, then Cheney, saving Bush for last, since it would do no good to get rid of the president only to have the even worse vice president in his stead.
If justice were the sole criterion, all three of these officials and more deserve to be thrown out of office, using the constitutional mechanism which the founders provided as a substitute for bloody revolution. But practical considerations point to more conventional remedies.
There is, after all, an election coming up. Admittedly, the candidates now leading the pack in both parties seem tepid at best. Recent revelations of how John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson colluded with the worst excesses of the CIA during their presidencies make the Democrats look almost as bad as the Republicans from a historical perspective. But the current situation is the worst ever, without even any constitutional fig leaf thrown over the Bush-Cheney administration’s naked usurpation of power.
On the other hand, no candidate in either major party, even Giuliani, even (god forbid) Lieberman as an independent, seems to be quite as villainous as the people now in office. And there really isn’t time to mount a three-impeachment prosecution before the next election.
Even though all three villains and many of their cronies richly deserve to be punished by impeachment, prudence, in the words of the Declaration, seems to dictate at this point that we should ride out the next electoral cycle and hope that things will change.
And if they don’t, of course, revolution is always an alternative. Just to keep in practice, why don’t we all revive the custom of organizing a stirring reading of the Declaration of Independence at our Fourth of July barbecues this year? A copy of the document, a genuine thriller, is provided in this issue for your convenience.
Becky O-Malley is the editor of the Berkeley Daily Planet.
The Declaration of Independence
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
• 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.
• He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
• He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
• He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
• He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
• He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
• 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:
• For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
• For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
• For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
• For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
• For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
• For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
• 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
• For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
• For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
• He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
• He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
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.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British 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.
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.