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“Declaration of Independence” – from What?

Aristotle drew a distinction between “accident” and “essence.”

“Accident” would include the specifics of how a thing appears in this world in a particular instance. You, for example, appear as male or female, of a given age and physical description, having a particular ancestry and personal history, etc.

“Essence” would be the person-ness, human-ness, or God-given “you-ness” of you.

Those definitions could stand some fussing over, but you get the idea.

I’d say the things we usually think of in relation to our Declaration of Independence are the “accidents” – focused largely on the behavior of King George.

What was the essence of The Declaration? What were we “REALLY” trying to free ourselves from?

I don’t think it was about the British per se; it was not a racial thing. “Taxation without representation”? Yes. But why? Imprisonment away from one’s home country, without clear and true reasons, without a fair and effective trial? Yes, but why?

Here are some excerpts from the original Declaration (a scan of which can be seen at I have added some outlining and some emphases.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America …

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 …

That right to reject a destructive government surely (in “essence”) applies to alteration or removal of a corrupt and dangerous Administration.

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.

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.

Does that sound familiar or what? “Signing Statements” anyone?

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 affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us … 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.

In today’s case, it seems our “legislature” (Senators and Congresspersons) and “King” feel a much lessened obligation to those abstract or quaint notions of justice, nor are they moved to try to protect us from an encroaching executive by the fact of our shared heritage and citizenship.

“Essence” – “accidents.” I believe the essence of independence is very much under threat today.

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

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.

Sounds like it was pretty serious. In fact, Ben Franklin made a remark to the effect that they had better all hang together, or surely they would all hang separately. Is it getting that serious again?

[See also “Declaration of Independence – Kids’ Version”.

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  • Sorry, hit the “Submit Comment” to see if the link worked and couldn’t continue the edit – as I was saying, we watched the movie, “LUTHER” last night and I’m sure those gold dripping cardinals and religious leaders would have liked to “tar and feather” and more likely burn Luther for saying and printing that indulgences should be overthrown and that the people should be given the freedom and mercy of Christ instead of the anger of the “Church”.

    But have hope, Rob, and don’t give up…some of the cardinals repented in their hearts because of Luther’s words and standing up to the insanity of the leadership. 🙂

  • That link was almost hilarious – and fun to read! (but I wish there was a translation in-between Jefferson and Mencken)

    …and regarding your comment on the reaction of some when told they can and should overthrow the government… we watched the 2003 movie, “LUTHER”

  • because 85 year old language may be better than 230:

    note the first part about how some react when told they can and even should overthrow the government, according to this document.

    Maybe we should start referring to the document as the Definition of Independence, since the definition is changing under us. Maybe we can only define such a word correctly by associating it with similar experiences, and we have never experienced the kind of independence that Jefferson had in his mind and then in his own future. Maybe we can never experience it without a revolution since this is OUR normal.

    don’t get me wrong… i love to rock the boat but i still think it’s made for sinking. And i’m not advocating anything too rash, since war will always cost an innocent life. An innocent is one who did not want any war when nobody asked them. The only way this country can crush an uprising without harming any innocents (by my definition) is if the military is many times more efficient and dangerous than we all keep hearing that it is.

    Anyone care to chide me for my crappy attitude? Anyone? Come on, this is a serious invitation. Prove to me i’m full of it so i can go back to sleep and let everyone else fix the thing i gave up on. But get this: Just earlier today i remarked about how one can’t change people, and if one could, i’d have a lot more friends. If you can’t change a person, how are you going to change a population? And if not the people who uphold it, what else can you use to steer this country back to sanity? Statistical mechanics strikes again.

    Just another few cents.