It was an ideal day, that day. The temperature hovered around the mid seventies throughout with a mild breeze approaching from the southwest. It had stormed the night before, so the oft rutted dirt roads approaching the then-capitol splashed as horses and carriages moved into the city for the final debate.
Of those who had remained in the city proper, the mood was tense around the tavern tables at breakfast…they were about to declare to their rightful ruler that they would no longer be ruled over.
They were all anxious. Some angry, using the heat of their indignation to carry them past their fear, while others simply sat, staring at their morning ale, wishing, praying that England would see reason and dispatch a courier at the last moment, rescuing them from the treason they were about to commit.
To the common man, only stories from the press and the occasional soap-box-preacher, shaped their opinions on the matter. Many wanted to be out from under the yoke of foreign rule, having been born in the new world and far removed from the pomp and pride of living under a monarchy.
News of the brutality at the hands of the King’s soldiers had tipped the scale for many. They wanted to live as they had always lived without the interference of the “elite” who could so easily upend their existence with no warning, no care.
But they were all scared…even those who wished to remain loyal subjects despaired for the approaching storm of violence. They could feel it. And secretly, even they wished the King would relent and offer representation, relief, and a redress of grievances.
It took great courage to defy their ruler. It took great courage for them to ink the words that gave form to the rights we all know we deserve but lacked the coherence, and often the will, to utter. After all, public talk of rights in itself was considered treason at times; punished swiftly, brutally, and with finality.
We did not seek to conquer foreign lands, build a mighty empire, or produce a new ruling class. We sought educated men, thoughtful men to lead us, even when we disagreed as to the course.
But one thing was clear in their minds…the rights of the people, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, belonged to the people even before it was written, iron ink to parchment. It was always there and needed only to be breathed to take form.
It took decades for this will to apply to all men. Decades more to apply to all people, but in their thoughtful, deliberate language, they foresaw that exclusion was a matter of perception, and perceptions change. They made clear that the PEOPLE have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In our disagreements over who has the right to do what, we must honor the specificity of that language…specific in its broadness.
That is something we all tend to take for granted today, here in the US, and often in other countries with similar Constitutions.
So while we may not be happy with our leadership, or the course of policy, or the infractions to our civil rights, or the rights of others, we must always remember our origins. The words that were written were hard fought words, stubborn words, defiant words, asserting our rights to one who would not recognize them. We didn’t require that England change its mind, or feign hope that it would acquiesce. We wrote them to solidify the notion in our own minds so that we would ache for not having them. Because once you can envision your own freedom, there is no force that can pry it from your mind.
Yes, there are fights left. Many, I would say. But we have the weight of history behind us, while those who would curtail, challenge and threaten our rights, have only their petty wants. I’ll take those odds all day long.
Happy Independence Day, my friends.