When you think of the ramifications that a few words, no matter how well they may be written, can have on a community, a state or even a nation, it is incredible.
But when they can change the course of the entire world, that is truly awe inspiring.
And that is exactly what happened on what we expect was a hot Thursday in Philadelphia, 236 years ago today. A group of men, gathered to represent 13 British colonies, put their property, livelihood and their very lives on the line when they signed a parchment that united a New World, a Declaration of Independence that began:
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 Continental Congress outlined it grievances against an oppressive king an ocean away, one that brazenly ignored charters and agreements while, among other things, restricting trade, imposing taxes at will, stationing troops in the colonies and violating judicial laws and protections. Petitions to the crown for relief, they said, "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."
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.
What followed was a war, one that the colonies won against all odds against what was then the world's foremost military power, and the creation of a nation and a Constitution that has survived and thrived for 236 years. The impact that the United States of America has had is not debatable. And we may argue virgorously among ourselves about issues and causes, but only because the bravery exhibited by those signers and the Americans who fought against the crown gave us a nation where we could speak freely, something that had never before been accomplished.
Tomorrow, we may argue and debate viewpoints as liberals, conservatives, tea partiers, libertarians, progressives or whatever else we care to classify ourselves as being.
But today, let us just be Americans. And let us celebrate our proud heritage and remember those who, in just more than 1,300 words, changed the world.
-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board