Sunday, July 4, 2010

Notes on the Declaration of Independence

This is a Wordle of the text of the Declaration of Independence, adopted on this day back in 1776 (making the USA 234 years old today). (Click image to embiggen.)

The Wordle takes large amounts  of text and shows individual words or phrases (depending on how much pre-work you do--it was probably worth combining "British" and "Britain," for example) with their size adjusted up or down based on the frequency of mention. The strength of the Wordle is how to helps you infer themes or sentiments.

If you have no idea what the Declaration of Independence is about, "people" is the most common word. In the wake of the past year plus of "Tea Party" protests, it's worth noting that the word "taxes" (or its variants) and the word "tyranny" (and its variations) are pretty small, meaning they are used only a few times.

Here are the key sections. First, the preamble--who are we and why are we here?
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.
Second, natural rights.
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 to 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 shown 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. [END OF NATURAL RIGHTS]--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.
Let's pause for a minute to talk about equality. The Declaration states that "all men are created equal" but, considering the "framer's intent" (which is to say women were not able to vote, and the negroes were slaves) shouldn't only white heterosexual men be considered equal? If you think that's insane and/or archaic, just remember that when a politician implies that equal protection (a Constitutional thing, granted) doesn't apply to teh gayz because, you know, they weren't THINKING about them, tell them to shut the fuck up. Regardless of the circumstances in place 234 years ago, this country has moved slowly, but SLOWLY, toward applying these concepts to everyone. Even teh gayz. And Mitt Romney.

The other pause here is about the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, because the first of those is "life." I am a reluctant supporter of abortion rights; I think most who support abortion rights feel about the same way.  I rant about the failures of abstinence-only sex education  because they lead to more unwanted pregnancies, and more unwanted pregnancies lead to more abortions. I wasn't really intending to spend so much time on abortion here, but feel like I couldn't skip "life" to focus on the others, and I think it's fair to expect something. There are a lot of people who consider the more 1.5 million estimated abortions conducted daily in the US to be a form of genocide. I don't disagree completely. It's difficult these days to hold a nuanced opinion--let's revisit this one, because it deserves more of a discussion that doesn't involve people with misspelled signs yelling "murderer" at people who really don't feel they have options, despite what the strangers who are shouting at them might think.

Which leads us to the ideas of liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty is simple enough, right? It's, um, the, um... hey, what IS liberty anyway? Is it living just like the other families in your white suburb back in the 1950s? Is it not paying any of your income in taxes? Or is it the notion that everyone gets to live his/her own life (within a basic legal framework), even if that life really pisses you off? You may not agree or support with my unnatural love for show business awards trivia, but by God, you will respect my right to enjoy that, 24/7/365. Or YOU'RE the one who's not American.

The pursuit of happiness is also a personal thing. And I will use Loving v. Virginia to illustrate my case. Loving is a 1967 Supreme Court case that established that the state has no interest in preventing people of different races from marrying, providing they meet the general requirements set forth to get married (which is my way of preventing the "people will marry horses" argument that inevitably follows--the minute horses can enter into binding contracts, we can discuss this scenario).

Of course Loving effectively redefined marriage, which is INSANE, because, as you know, words, even those that have multiple functioning definitions, can only actually ever mean just one thing. Or so Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage (for Heterosexuals) would have us believe. According to Gallagher, "marriage" has only ever meant one man and one woman, so it must be limited to just one man and one woman. Except that assertion is a lie. The minute you look outside one's own, potentially limited, perspective, the minute one might find, huzzah, one man/many women. Or multiple men/multiple women. Or one man/one child bride. Or even one man/one person he abducts. So Gallagher's fundamental premise is flawed. And she's using her own biases to keep some people from pursuing their happiness.

Marriages used to be strictly about estate ownership, and churches were involved in marriages because churches provided a central structure for civil laws (while the government was focused on criminal laws). So different rules about marriage were in place and legal simultaneously because each religion had its own tenets.

Next up, the list of grievances, which sounds a lot like Festivus. The anti-Obama "Tea Party" protesters, who are TOTALLY NOT RACISTS, love to characterize Obama as the worst leader in American history. Which is not racism, it's just plain facts. Life under George W. Bush was textbook illustrations of how tax cuts equal jobs, how cronyism yields success, and how war is always the answer. And if Al Qaeda attacked America because they hate our freedom, then they must LOVE us know that those freedoms have been stripped away or at least compromised. Fucker (Bush, not Obama, although I don't have a lot of love for Obama who is probably more like Bush than McCain would have been).

Anyway, here are the grievances, beginning with the end of the natural rights section:
--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. [Bush did this a lot--exempting his administration from laws via signing statements, and flat-out ignoring laws like FISA.]

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 meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration 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. [If you swap out judges with justice department officials selected specifically for party loyalty, you'll get this from Bush.]

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. [Department of Homeland Security anyone? Loss of habeas corpus anyone?]

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature. [Sadly, under Bush, there was only a fleeting moment when we weren't in a war.]

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power. [Pretty much.]

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: [Rendition and torture, anyone?]

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states: [We move swiftly against ACORN, despite the fact that the video shown as an indictment was heavily edited, largely fabricated, and failed to include a number of instances of ACORN officials acting appropriately and reporting that dumbass to authorities--of course this is BORING, so it didn't get much coverage, yawn. But Blackwater/Xe? Still getting huge contracts.]

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent: [I will grant that Bush cut as many taxes as he possibly could, especially to the wealthy. Also, apparently, some people think any taxes are bad, so this is a clear hotbed issue.]

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury: [Habeas whatus?]

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses: [Rendition]
And finally, the conclusion (by the way, Wikipedia is down for a while, so I'm guessing that this is the conclusion, and not also some of the grievances):
For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring 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 in 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, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and 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 endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is 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 attention 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 the 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.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett [I grew up in Gwinnett County, Georgia, named after Button (who never set foot in the county as he lived in Savannah until his early death--I was giddy to learn that a relatively obscure founding father actually has one of the most valuable autographs in the world)], Lyman Hall, George Walton

Happy 4th of July everybody. I'm enduring fireworks while the dogs are safe at the kennel. Turns out I hate fireworks just as much when Midge is away.

1 comment:

e. said...

I nominate you for an awesomation award for this post. Thanks for bringing some critical thought to Independence Day.