July 4th Announcement
If you are an American, you owe what you enjoy today to a small group of guys who agreed to risk their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” to declare Independence from a distant monarchy on July 4, 1776.
30 years earlier, a group of Scotsmen tried to shake off the British King. They lost the critical battle, were dragged down to London to be made an example, and their heads were chopped off as a huge crowd watched.
But our guys won...
Your Barbecue and fireworks are not merely a day for easy living. July 4 is the day when those men look down, and ask whether you can preserve what they gave you.
Spend a few minutes on July 4th to recall what they did. In the Somerville Courthouse on the Square, 11 AM. By noon, you’ll remember what it’s all about, and be ready to head out to celebrate.
Our President at His Best!
Observations by a Citizen
Was the Declaration of Independence “Legal?”
Perhaps today’s riots raise the necessity to review that question, because they are clearly aimed at removing how we are governed. In 2011 the “Temple American Inn of Court” hosted a debate between British barristers and American lawyers in Philadelphia to test the arguments on either side.
The Brit’s, of course, argued that our forebears broke the law. They denied that rebellion - or secession - is the proper way to settle internal disputes. To make their point, they proposed, for an example, that Texas might choose to secede. They argued that Lincoln proved, by victory over the South, that secession was illegal.
For most of human history, that argument worked - the law was any set of rules that a ruler deemed useful to maintain his power - if he was able to maintain it by force. If there was a dispute severe enough to spawn an armed conflict, the winner was the “legal” governing authority. When King William’s Normans (from France) defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, he subdued England, and imposed the laws that have evolved in England ever since. That conquest - and all the others in history - replaced what had been “legal” with a new set of laws.
That foundation for law didn’t really change in England as the centuries rolled on. But a new twist began after King James II was thrown out of office in 1688. The monarchy had been losing power to Parliament for that 600 years, and James goofed by taking too much back - raising a “standing army,” imposing taxes, and such, on his own authority.
So, Parliament, when choosing William & Mary to fill the empty throne, made a new law. It is known as the British “Bill of Rights.” It limited the royal power, and solidified new rules, such as the right of citizens to bear arms (except for Catholics) and for certain classes to vote. The “common law,” (the previous rulings of courts), became the rightful law of the land, and was increasingly stabilized by precedent.
This was the basis of law that England’s colonists trusted to protect their rights. Then the writings of John Locke, Algernon Sidney, and others began to convince many - particularly the colonists who’d built their communities without much governing from London - that their rights did not come from government at all, but from “their Creator.” They concluded rights stem from “Natural Law,” superior to any law invented by men.
When Parliament began to impose new laws and taxes on the colonies, sending troops to enforce them, colonists sensed that their natural rights, which should be protected, were being violated by the law-protectors themselves. They believed that “legal” meant governing was rightful only with the “consent of the governed.” They hadn’t consented to the new rules. So, convinced “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 …” they seceded by declaring independence. It could have been peaceful, if Parliament hadn’t had a hissy fit over it. But, like Lincoln, they chose to use force to stop it. Given the rough nature of history, I think we were lucky in both cases. But, it was force that finally determined what was “legal.”
Our Constitution came out of that, and we can only hope it will prevail today. As Hamilton defined the question: “that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.” That question has risen, once again, on our own streets.
Will “legal” return to whoever wins by force, or by relying on “reflection and choice” under the Constitution?