Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day: From Subjects to Citizens

A recent discovery by preservationists at the Library of Congress has shown an interesting piece of history within the one of the pivotal documents of America's founding. When Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, it was organized into 5 parts:"the introduction, the preamble, the indictment of George III, the denunciation of the British people, and the conclusion." In the section indicting King George, Jefferson delineated a list of grievances that many colonists had against the King. One such indictment was of "treasonable insurrections". In the Declaration itself, here is how that section reads (note: original spelling is used):
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands. (emphasis mine)

However, as the preservationists have recently discovered through use of high tech devices, Jefferson had changed one word in that section in the transcription of this document that was truly indicative of how the Founders viewed the tyranny of King George. The workers at the Library of Congress discovered that although the document refers to "our fellow citizens" in the aforementioned section, Thomas Jefferson modified this section which originally referred to our fellow subjects. The Founders and early American patriots did not wish to be viewed as subjects to a King whom they had a long list of grievances against. They wished to be seen as citizens who had liberty, not subjects who were under tyranny.

When we simply look at what distinguishes "subjects" from "citizens", we can see what a declaration of independence truly means. A citizen is one who is under the protection of a governing body, while a subject is one under the control of a governing body. Jefferson and the other Founders saw that, because of they had become subject to tyranny, forced to fight against their fellow citizens, obstructing justice, imposing taxes, and a whole slew of other injustices and constraints to liberty, they had been relegated to subjects, and that in order to seen as they truly were, citizens, Jefferson and the other signers of the document needed to declare their independence.

The bravery, boldness, and foresight of these brave men and the providence of God allow us today to live in freedom. Some shared their vision; some gave their wisdom; and some even gave their lives. The sacrifice of many has given liberty to so many more. Freedom is not free, but we have every reason to celebrate the blessings that we have as Americans. John Adams even foresaw that this Declaration would be celebrated. Let us heed his words as we celebrate independence (note: original spelling is used):
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

Cross posted here.

No comments:

Post a Comment