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Victor Nuovo: The case for independence

The Declaration of Independence as an act of Congress occurred on July 2, 1776, after being debated for more than a month. On July 3, 1776, John Adams reported this action to Abagail Adams, his wife.
“Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony “that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States …”
A day later, Congress voted to adopt The Declaration of Independence. It had been drafted by a committee consisting of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut. Jefferson was the principal author of the draft. It was debated in Congress, revised, and adopted, and published as a formal announcement or proclamation. It presents the following argument justifying the action taken two days before.
First, it is noted that this action has historical precedent. There are occasions “in the course of human events,” when a people find it necessary to “dissolve the political bands” that joined them to another people and assume “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.” Nevertheless, when such occasions occur, it is incumbent upon those who separate to state the reasons of their action. A “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” requires it. Without this rational ground of common understanding and agreement, the business of human society could not be conducted.
What follows is a theory of government in three clauses. The first asserts the self-evident truths of human equality and universal inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Next, Governments, which properly derive their powers from the consent of the governed, are obliged to secure these rights for all of them. Finally, when any government “becomes destructive of these ends” the people, whose consent established it in the first place, have the right “to alter or abolish it.”
Next follows a word of caution. Prudence, a moral and political virtue, requires that “Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.” This is a counsel of caution or imperfection. It is often wiser to “bear the ills we gave than fly to others we know not of.” Prudence advises “Be patient.”
But patience has limits, and these limits have been transgressed by “a long train of abuses and usurpations” that are not random, but which reveal a common sinister purpose: namely, to establish an absolute despotism over the colonies. The evidence is conclusive.
Having stated in general the reasons for independence, the evidence is presented in detail. There follows a list of “injuries and usurpations” committed by the King and his ministers, “all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these states.” The list contains twenty-eight grievances that range over the following: interfering in the legislative processes of the states; ignoring their legislative actions; tampering with their elections, refusing to allow them, or not accepting their results; corrupting the administration of justice; pursuing a policy of militarization, and waging war against the people. The Congress has petitioned the King to end these oppressions “in the most humble terms,” but to no avail. From all this it follows that “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.”
It is stated also that the Congress has appealed to British people through their parliament, and to their “native Justice and Magnanimity” and kindred ties, all to no effect
The conclusion follows: “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.” The colonies no longer owe any allegiance to the British Crown, and all ties to the State of Great Britain and to its people are dissolved. They are now and hereafter free and independent states, free to wage war, to make peace, to enter into international treaties, and engage in commerce with other nations.
Note that by this unanimous declaration the thirteen states did not create one comprehensive state. Rather, by it, each state became sovereign and independent in its own right. Independence was their common endeavor and goal, and for this purpose they pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. They were now engaged in a mutual endeavor.
The creation of a more perfect union between the states was still to come. Nevertheless, the act of independence was done, and it was irrevocable. And it brought into being a new political consciousness founded on irrefutable principles, among them, the principles of equality, and of the inalienable human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and, finally, the principle that no government has legitimacy unless its only endeavor is to secure these rights for all of its people. To depart from this endeavor is to enter a path along that leads to tyranny.
Because the act of the Continental Congress declaring independence was an act of Reason it became a model all peoples could follow, and it established a right that all peoples could claim: the right of a people to political independence and by mutual consent to create their own government. It should be no surprise that this universal right of peoples could be the cause of chronic disorder in world history. For instance, it can lead to conflicts between peoples that claim the same land as their home, of which there are many current examples, and conflicts over what constitutes the identity of a people, and over what rights to accord those who do not meet the criteria of identity, and the problem of how to reconcile the right of peoples to be free and independent with the inalienable rights of individual persons to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which must be everywhere and always observed. Ever since the declaration, it has become the duty of our species to create and maintain a global society in which these irrevocable rights of peoples and of persons are faithfully maintained.
One could write a history of the world from July 4, 1776 to the present with these issues as its focus. But it would be without a conclusion, for that is more to come and we are not mere observers of the narrative but active participants in it, and our histories are only provisional, subject to revision.

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