For the most part, I love the Declaration of Independence because its just a long list of complaints; I think that the writers really just wanted to make the case for why they were committing the acts of treason that erupted after the Battles of Lexington and Concord. They had broken the law, they were turning against the government, and they knew they were in deep trouble. They needed to explain themselves.
Jefferson listed all of the ways that the revolutionaries felt aggrieved by the King. Everything from controlling the commerce of the seas to arresting people without just cause, Jefferson listed them all. By outlining the “sins” of the government, Jefferson was trying to say that he and the other revolutionary leaders were right to oppose that government.
But my favorite part of the document is the beginning, where Jefferson lays out the political philosophy of the revolution. “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.”
It sort of reminds me of another “subversive guy” who is trying to justify his actions in opposing the sins of his government. Do you recognize these words?
“I’m no different from anybody else. I don’t have special skills. I’m just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what’s happening and goes, ‘This is something that’s not our place to decide, the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.’ And I’m willing to go on the record to defend the authenticity of them and say, ‘I didn’t change these, I didn’t modify the story. This is the truth; this is what’s happening. You should decide whether we need to be doing this.'”
Now, I’m not trying to say that Edward Snowden should be compared to Thomas Jefferson. Not really. But I think that there are some real echoes to be found here, and I think that if we truly value the actions and thoughts of those early revolutionaries, then we need to think hard about those echoes.
Snowden said that he found it necessary to commit an act that would appear to be against his government. He found that act to be necessary because the actions of the government were being done in secret and the the public needed to know about them, to decide about the appropriateness of those programs. Why? Well, because “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” If the government isn’t telling the governed that it is spying on them, then I guess it didn’t derive its just power to do that spying from the consent of the governed, now did it?
Happy 4th of July, United States. Happy Birthday, American citizens.
Let’s just all be careful about what exactly it is that we are giving our consent to, and let’s make damn sure that we are being asked to give that consent. Otherwise, I think we need to look closely at another section of the Declaration. The part that says this:
“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.”