Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Declaration of Independence: The Founding Fathers Precious Gift To Us

"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."

I was born under the Soviet flag of occupation in Poland. My parents and most of my relatives (those who survived) spent six long years under the thumb of Nazi occupation. I fully understand how precious freedom is. That's one of many reasons why I fully appreciate what beautiful gifts our Founding Fathers bestowed upon us over 230 years ago in The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights (and later, The Constitution).

In their wisdom, the Founders also knew they were writing a document not for their generation alone, but for all future generations to come. In other words, they passed on a very carefully thought-out reminder that---as Americans ---we have a duty, a responsibility to carry on the core principles and values embedded in these documents.

There have been times in our history when we've failed to uphold these principles. That's undeniable. However, we've had more successes and failures largely due to our democratic-republic's ability to self-correct itself. History is replete with examples. All one has to do is review the history of the Supreme Court. Most recently, of course, we've all witnessed this scenario played out with the Supreme Court's decision on the health care mandate (I've found it interesting that many Americans would prefer "dependence" on the government when it comes to control of their health, their own body rather than having the ability to choose their own health care. I have a strong feeling most of the Founding Fathers would also have an issue with such a mandate).  A majority of Americans feel the law is coercive as do I. The debate over the law will continue (and what's more American than that?).  But as I pointed out above, Americans will still have an opportunity to voice their opinion at the ballot box where self-correction usually takes place. In fact, many of the Founders believed threats to their grand design would not only come from external forces, but also from internal forces.

And when I ponder the successes and failures, it reminds me again how brilliant the Founders were in conceiving The Declaration of Independence (and The Constitution). They fully understood America is not only a place but it's an idea, a grand design (many attribute to God) based on the core principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (note "pursuit" not guarantee).

We must also keep in mind these documents were forged in battle. We were fighting the greatest military at the time, and we were outnumbered. A war that wouldn't end until 1783. Yet, the Founders struggled in the hot, humid summer of 1776 in Philadelphia to create these great documents even as they debated amongst themselves over issues having to do with state's rights, central government control (Franklin was especially concerned about "centralized" power in government) and allegiance to the Crown. More important, in the Declaration itself --with the threat of imprisonment and death hanging over their heads--- they had the intestinal fortitude to list the "repeated injuries and usurpations" by the Crown, the King of Great Britain, George III.

It is with all of the above in mind that I often find myself discouraged at what our federal government has become. Don't get me wrong. I firmly believe there is a place for centralized federal control and oversight especially in the areas of national security, health and welfare. But I suspect most Americans, if they are honest with themselves, will agree the unrelenting growth of our federal government should give us all pause.  There was a reason our Founders created three branches of government in our Constitution. In their wisdom they knew this type of structure---this separation of powers-- would ensure one branch of government would not become more powerful than the others. It was to be "shared" power.  Hence, a system of "checks and balances" was created.  If our Founders wanted a more powerful centralized government, I would think they would have stopped at the executive branch.

So as we celebrate this great moment in American history, it might be good to reflect on what Benjamin Franklin said to a woman on the last day of the constitutional convention in 1787. She asked Franklin what type of government did the delegates create. Franklin replied, "A Republic madam, if you can keep it."