After the (Tea) Party: Jefferson and the Declaration

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“The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America” had a multitude of goals and audiences both internal and external, but at its core it had a simple purpose: to formally establish the united colonies as sovereign nations. The Americans had pitted themselves against the mightiest armed force in the world – and gleefully bloodied its nose on several occasions. The colonists were confident but knew they could not prevail against the gigantic British empire without help. In the terms of 18th century international statecraft, the conflict had, up until then, been considered internal; insurrection rather than revolution. So long as the colonies remained colonies, British subjects of Britain’s King, their struggle would perforce be viewed as a civil war. The other great powers of Europe might applaud the upheaval, but unless they were prepared to declare war on Britain, which they were not yet ready to do, they would not, could not, be directly involved in the internal affairs of another country. The civil war must become a war of independence before other nations could safely render aid on the colonists’ behalf. The Americans had to escalate.

A mere declaration, however bold, was not sufficient. The powers of the world, virtually all of them monarchies, had to be convinced that the colonies were entitled to depose their king and claim the same international rights of statehood. The Second Continental Congress chose Thomas Jefferson to do the convincing.

Jefferson took an elegant approach to the problem. Undoubtedly aware that the classic syllogism would not bear the complexity of the issue, he employed a structure that would, many years later, be closely identified with the Toulmin model of argument.

Artfully setting the stage and introducing his supporting claim in the introduction, Jefferson established the warrant of his argument in the preamble. The warrant was, in fact and intentionally, nothing new to his audience. In three sentences, with five propositions building one upon another, Jefferson distilled what John Locke and others had already propounded:
1.) All men are created equal.
2.) They have certain natural rights.
3.) Among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
4.) People institute governments to secure these rights.
5.) If their government fails to secure these rights, the people are entitled to alter or abolish it.

Without yet mentioning America or Britain, Jefferson had defined the basic premise of his argument, a premise already familiar to and accepted by most of his audience.

Next, he commenced to build the support, what was actually the most crucial argument of all. Virtually everyone in his intended audience already agreed that it was a people’s right to throw off a tyrannical government, but did the conditions exist in the American colonies to legitimize such a revolution? To prove this Jefferson had to convince his readers of two things: one far easier to accomplish than the other.

To achieve his first and simplest goal, to show that George III, King of Britain, was in deeds and in facts a tyrant, Jefferson applied centuries of English historical precedent and presented what amounts to a legal bill of indictment; over two dozen carefully ordered and even more carefully worded grievances against the British King and his government. Tyranny is a far from petty crime and is certainly perpetrated “with malice aforethought.” Evidence presented against the accused should be weighty, verifiable, and evince an obvious conclusion of premeditation. The bill of indictment, taking up close to two-thirds of the entire document, accomplished those ends leaving little room for denial of the facts and even less room for rebuttal regarding the legitimacy of the actions. The wording of the list of grievances, particularly the opening and closing statements, also fulfill a secondary requirement by displaying the colonists’ “patient sufferance” during this “history of repeated injuries and usurpations” and noting that they had done all they could do to redress the issues.

The second and more difficult clause of the Americans’ supporting argument was to convince the leaders of the world that the king had perpetrated these acts upon a “people,” more specifically a people separate from the people of Britain. This was absolutely vital. Jefferson had to make the point that the colonists were “American”, not “British”, subjects of the King George III. Unlike a large percentage of the colonists, the average Briton did not view his king with displeasure and certainly had no desire to abolish the government. The colonists must be identified as a distinct “people”, or it would invalidate the argument’s foundational warrant. To accomplish this, Jefferson took an oblique approach. He begins in the introduction, where the audience sees “one people” dissolving their bonds with “another.” Then picking up again in the litany of grievances, he repeatedly juxtaposes words like “us” and “our” against “he” and “his.” Finally, in his denouncement of the British people as a whole for their own ignoring the colonist’s appeals, Jefferson’s language artfully distances the Americans further and further from the British. By referring to “our British brethren,” Jefferson simultaneously invokes the ties of common heritage and infers a separation. He says, in effect, that though they be related, they are two peoples. Then reminding the British and the rest of his audience of “the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here” he continues to drive that point home. Jefferson firmly ends the issue with an emphatic statement that the American people must reluctantly bow to the inevitable and regard the British the way any sovereign nation regards the other nations of the world: “Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

Having fulfilled his requirements, provided warrant and support, Jefferson had only to conclude the Declaration with his claim. He does so in a way that is at once direct and moving. The last sentence in the conclusion, particularly the first phrase, still rings in the hearts of anyone who has ever read it and even those who have only heard it.

“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.”

 

Until next time…

(Disclaimer: Okay, y’all. I tried to talk him into condensing this a smidge, but he wouldn’t budge. Would. Not. Budge. Marines have a way of being stubborn like that. “No,” he said, “It needed saying before we continue with the corporations as the not so new bad guys thing.” Sigh. Bear with us. There is a method to our madness. Later, y’all.)

 

Corporations: The Not-So-New Bad Guys

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The East India Company. Yes, you read that correctly. Remember studying about them in school? Well, let us tell you a little about them.

Do you remember learning in history class about how the Declaration of Independence was sent to the then king of England because the colonists were tired of his royal highness of unfairness? Well, while he was a problem for sure, the real problem was the East India Company.

Why? We are so glad you asked. Pull up a chair. This may take a while.

This story starts at the very first protest against corporate control of government. Any guesses? It happened on Dec. 16, 1773. In Boston of all places. Boston Harbor to be precise. Yep, the good ole Boston Tea Party. While the king was busy having a war with France, the East India Company, a corporation of wealthy English, was getting Britain to enact all kinds of outrageous market controls and taxes on the colonies.

Do you know why? Would you be shocked to learn that “corporate bail-out” is not a new term?

You see, the East India Company was in debt up to it’s English eyeballs. It had warehouses full of tea that it couldn’t sell because smugglers were selling Dutch tax-free tea to the colonists. Sooo, Parliament came up with what they thought was a brilliant scheme to bail-out the Company. They decided to lower the tax on tea, therefore allowing the Company to compete with the smugglers. At that point in history, the colonies had just barely begun to be profitable. They were more of a market resource than an inventory source. They knew that this new tax break would set the Company up to be a monopoly, allowing it to become too powerful, and put many colonists out of business. Thus, the Boston Tea Party.

But wait, you say? You thought the American Revolution was about taxation without representation? Sure it was. But it was also about corporate bail-outs at the expense of the public, and about corporate monopolies.

Okay. I know what you are thinking. That’s all ancient history, right?

Not exactly.

Let’s just talk about light bulbs for a second. You know, incandescent light bulbs. Once claimed to be the innovation of the century, the incandescent bulb has now been “banned” for lack of a better word.

Why?

Money.

Pure ole unadulterated greed.

Light bulb giants like General Electric, Philips and Sylvania lobbied for those regulations.

Lobbied hard.

Spent millions.

Just so they could make more money.

What is my point? If someone asked me what I thought was the biggest problem in government today, my answer would be…wait for it…corporations. Not that they are evil in themselves, although I’m pretty sure I could argue that one as well, but that they are in control of our government more than most Americans really know or want to believe.

Oh, and lobbyists. Let’s not forget about lobbyists.

But we will save that for another time. Hang around, folks. We’re not done.

‘Til next time. Later, y’all.

Why are we in this hand-basket? And where are we going?

We’ve heard it so many times lately. “We are all doomed.” “I have no faith in our government.” “This country is going to hell in a hand-basket.” Have you ever wondered why people are feeling so down about the state of our nation? Have you ever wondered how the hell we got here in this hand-basket, soaked in tequila, and someone we don’t trust as far we can spit is holding a match?

We have too. An old guy named Henry David Thoreau said “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” Hang around on social media more than five minutes and you’ll see a whole lot of branch-hacking, but we don’t see much in the way of root-striking. Everybody seems to be looking for that “Easy” button, that one thing to do that’ll cure all the ills of today’s mess.

There’s only one problem with that “Easy” button. Okay, maybe more than one problem, but there is one massive problem that can’t be overlooked. That “Easy” button? It doesn’t exist. Oh, sure, people can say, “Just vote them all out” when talking about the problems. But will that really fix the problems? Will it? What is to keep the next politician, who miraculously manages to unseat a 30 year incumbent, from becoming the next problem?

You will notice we keep saying “problem.” But do you really understand what the problem(s) is/are? Do you have a clue what to do about them? If the answer is no, you are in luck. For that’s why we are here.

We don’t claim to understand what the problems are, at least not completely. But we do have some clues, and we’re pretty good at hacking at shi…. uh, stuff. We’re going to use this blog to grab onto a branch and follow it down to its root. Then we’ll look at another branch and follow it down; see if it comes from the same root, or maybe a different one. And another branch, and another…  Maybe that will help us figure out how to get rid of the gargantuan poison ivy patch our nation is turning into.

Okay, so maybe poison ivy patch was not the best analogy. Not everyone is allergic to poison ivy. Maybe kudzu is a better one. But those of us who are allergic to poison ivy are sick to death of the ever encroaching government with their ever encroaching legislation that takes away more of our liberty with every swing of the gavel.

We have the hatchets. And we aren’t afraid to use them. So join us, as we hack away at those illusive branches and try to shed some light on how we got in this hand-basket, and how the hell we get out of it.

If you’re wondering who “we” are, here are some clues. We’re a single mom, a Marine vet, a high school English teacher, a retired application developer, two frustrated wannabe novelists, a great-grandfather, a reformed Republican, a disappointed Libertarian, and big fans of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Oh, yeah, and the Constitution.

So, get in, buckle up, and hang on. Some of these lessons may be tough for some of you to hear, but we are not willing to stand idly by and see the great American experiment vanish along with all of our dreams. This will be a learning experience for all of us and we sure are glad you are here. Later, y’all.