From the Corner of Broadway and Main Street by John Armstrong
Tomorrow we celebrate a unique holiday. A holiday sanctioned by our recognized sovereign government that celebrates the rebellion against the recognized sovereign government. While it is called Independence Day, the actual act of signing the Declaration of Independence was an act of Rebellion. It was not the first effort of subjects to revolt against their King. In 1320 the Scots Aristocracy, seeking to re-establish their Independence from King Edward II of England, wrote an Open Letter to Pope John XXII. The letter, believed to have been written in the Arbroath Abbey, advanced the argument that Scotland was an Independent Kingdom and not the feudal land controlled by the Norman Kings of England. The letter, commonly referred to as the Declaration of Arbroath, was signed and sealed by 39 men and contains the following passage:
“For so long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
I ask you to compare those ancient words (written almost 700 years ago) to the following:
“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”
Now I am certain that you recognize the second quotation as the closing sentence of the Declaration of Independence. In both documents the basic human condition, a fervent desire for freedom is espoused. In both documents the signers acknowledge that they may have to pay the ultimate price of giving their lives to their cause. And in the view of the duly established governments, all those signers were outlaws, traitors, rebels.
In the case of the United States, we really didn’t defeat the British. Rather the English Crown grew tired of the fight and after enduring the siege of Yorktown, the British Army was withdrawn from the North American Continent. Had the Crown desired to continue the fight they could have assembled their Army and re-invaded as we had no means to stop them. Indeed, the British did just such an action in 1812, successfully burning the White House before being routed in Baltimore.
Scotland was not as fortunate. The rivers Esk, Liddel and Tweed are not nearly as intimidating as the North Atlantic. But despite the geographic proximity Scotland never officially surrendered to England in executing the Act of Union in 1707. That little detail is coming back into full view in 15 months when the Scots will be voting on a Referendum for Independence on September 18, 2014. How will it turn out?? Nobody really knows. As one acquaintance put it to me recently, not even the most risk tolerant book maker in London is willing to offer odds on either outcome.
The Declaration of Independence was not the last rebellion initiated in the United States. There are three other rebellions that you should remember from high school if you were paying attention.
In 1786 Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War Veteran, led a rebellion in western Massachusetts in response to an economic depression, a credit crunch due to lack of hard currency and governmental austerity measures imposed to solve the state’s debt problems. The uprising, known as Shays Rebellion was quashed in 1787.
In 1791 farmers in western Pennsylvania rebelled against the Federal Tax Inspectors who sought to collect an excise tax on the whiskey that they were distilling from their excess grains. The farmers chose to make whiskey because it was easier to transport than raw grain and had a far superior shelf life. This insurrection became known as the Whiskey Rebellion and was quashed in 1794 by four state’s Militia with President George Washington riding at the head of the forces.
Finally, in 1861 South Carolina and 10 other states decided that a voluntary association could be voluntarily severed. These states passed Ordinances of Secession declaring their intentions to sever all ties with the United States and seizing all property previously held by the Federal Government within their respective boundaries. This rebellion was a much bloodier affair, with present day historians estimating the casualty totals at 750,000 at its conclusion in 1865.
Not every Rebellion is Celebrated, only the successful ones. So as you celebrate Independence Day tomorrow I ask that you pause to ponder those words; Lives, Fortunes and Sacred Honor. Now I have no doubt that everybody holds some level of reverence for something that they would take such a pledge to defend, and by and large such feelings are limited to family. But I ask you to consider those words and to keep them close in your thoughts especially when you participate in our Democratic Republic by casting your vote. Is the recipient of your vote worthy? Do you think the candidate would stand with you and honor that pledge, or will that candidate skidaddle, vamoose or simply flee the battle to save their own hide. I hate to say it, but our present political leaders seem far more interested in self service than public service.
Why do I say that, you ask? Well consider three numbers: 1,338; 1,300 and 2,000. The Declaration of Independence contains a total of 1.338 words. The bi-partisan Immigration Reform and Overhaul bill winding its way through Congress consist some 1,300 pages. Finally, the Affordable Care Act that is presently in the process of being implemented was 2,000 pages in length. When the professional politicians are composing such lengthy tomes, you can bet that it is not your best interest that drives their craft. Oh, and for the record, this missive contains 982 words.
Have a safe and joyful Independence Day.
John Armstrong is a Vice President with Peoples Bank & Trust Company in Elsberry.
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