Another July 4 holiday weekend awaits us, filled with beers, beaches and barbecues. And while we're here, maybe a wide-ranging and sloppily constructed discussion on the following concept: If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, would he be donning a Guy Fawkes mask and writing a new Declaration of Independence in an attempt to free Americans from the tyranny of our own government?
As a matter of fact, yeah, I think maybe he would, based on a quick glance at the words he and his pals jotted down in the Declaration.
I'm not kidding, by the way. An argument can be made Jefferson and company would take one look at America today and start holding late night meetings in taverns. For instance...
The whole “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness' thing on which the rest of the document hangs on: OK fine, sure, America is still doing a good job on the “life' front, as there's no death squads roaming the hills, and as for “pursuit of happiness,' yep, we're aces. Go and pursue, young man, go and pursue.
But on the “liberty' angle? Let's go to Merriam-Webster: “Liberty: the quality or state of being free' which includes such things as “the power to do as one pleases' and “freedom from arbitrary or despotic control.'
Um ... marijuana, abortion, baggy pant laws, wearing a seatbelt, NSA snooping ... I could go on, but I think you get my point. I'd give America a C- on the liberty front. Which means, according to Jefferson, it's well within our rights to take down the machine. He wrote:
“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.'
So there it is in plain olde English: If we feel our liberty is being destroyed, all bets are off. But it can't be that easy, right? Jefferson acknowledges this point, calling for “prudence' before we go and start burning down the house. He further writes: “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.'
Key word there: Despotism. We don't live under despotism right? So maybe I should settle down on the revolution front?
See, when you think of a “despot,' you think of one dude — like a king — wielding absolute power. But it can also be a group wielding the power, like in an plutocracy, which calls for another visit from Merriam-Webster: “Plutocracy: government by the wealthy.' On that score, Jefferson would probably see there's something amiss here, as the average member of Congress is wealthier than 99 percent of the rest of America. Who do you think they're governing for?
And study after study has shown the moneyed class is just getting more moneyed while the non-moneyed class start writing columns questioning whether it's time for a revolution and, in the process, probably getting their name on some type of government watchlist. Anyway ...
Anyway ... here's some of the point-by-point reasons Jefferson gave back in 1776 for rising up against the king. Replace the king with “our government today' and raise your hands if any sound familiar...
“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone...'
“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.'
“For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world.:
“For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.'
It goes on. Read it with a half-critical eye, and you'll start getting the same sense I'm getting: The Declaration of Independence, if written today almost word-for-word, would be quite the call to arms (literally and figuratively) for citizens of these 50 states.
But there's a flipside to this, of course. In the immortal words of Meatloaf, and generally speaking, two out of three ain't bad. I'll take my “life' and “pursuit of happiness' and deal with liberty on a case-by-case basis.
Pass me a beer, will ya?