This piece is being published just before the July 4 holiday. I hope you all have a great holiday weekend. I hope you find time during the parades, fireworks, and cookouts to think for a moment or two on the significance of the holiday and how the issues confronting this land almost 250 years ago still exist today.
We all know that the Fourth of July holiday celebrates the declaration by thirteen British colonies located on the Atlantic Coast of North America of their independence from government by the British Crown. What we don’t think about as much is how truly revolutionary this action was.
In 1776, virtually every country in the world was governed by a hereditary monarch. The convention was that these men, and less often women, were granted authority to rule over their subjects by God. It is true that Britain at this time had a Parliament. It is also true that one House of that Parliament was elected, although the right to vote for the members was denied to most of the British people. Laws passed by Parliament did not become effective without Royal Assent. In the 18th Century, that usually precluded Parliament from enacting laws contrary to the Monarch’s wishes.
The rebelling North American colonies put their reasons for rejecting government by the British Crown into writing. We all know of the Declaration of Independence, although we probably haven’t read it since we were in school. The most revolutionary of the colonists’ ideas appears in the Declaration’s second paragraph: “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed.” This concept of the source of government power was the basis for many of the colonists’ specific charges against George III. Among those were:
- “He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”
- “He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.”
- “He has excited domestic insurrection amongst us.”
Interestingly, another example of George III’s tyranny stated in the Declaration was “obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners” and “refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither.” Obviously, July 4, 1776, was not about building a wall.
Thirteen years later, this commitment to democratic government was reaffirmed in the Constitution which remains in force as our basic law 232 years later. The preamble states explicitly who was making the Constitution: “We the people of the United States . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
It is not safe to assume that these basic founding principles of our Nation are now beyond question. Republicans are explicitly stating their disagreement. Republican United States Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, as quoted by CNN on June 14, 2021, said “The idea of democracy and majority rule really is what goes against our history and what the country stands for.” Senator Paul is not alone. The same CNN piece quoted Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee: “Democracy isn’t the objective.”
As we watch VFW honor guards march and fireworks burst this weekend, it worth thinking about how the principles on which this Nation was founded are under threat in the 21st Century. This threat comes not from a monarch across the Atlantic Ocean but from many among us who will be the first to wave the flag and profess the intention to “Make America Great.”
The Republicans’ opposition to democracy has manifested itself in laws in Ohio and elsewhere intended to discourage ordinary citizens from voting and, in some states, to give the incumbents greater power to invalidate the results of elections. We have seen rejection of democracy in the perpetuation of the myth that donald trump (he still has not earned the respect implicit in capitalizing letters in his name) really won the 2020 election even though, in both 2016 and 2020, millions more Americans voted for his Democratic opponent than for trump.
The specific reasons which the colonists gave for rebelling against George III still exist today. We have seen in Ohio and nationally Republicans forcing citizens to “relinquish the right of representation in the legislature” by drawing legislative districts which were intended to, and have, put Republicans in state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives in numbers far out of proportion to the number of Republican votes in their states. It is worth remembering that the Founding Fathers deemed the denial of representation in the legislature “formidable to tyrants only.”
We have seen and are seeing Republicans refuse their “assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good,” from filibustering bills in the U.S. Senate to ensure voting rights and combat climate change to passing state laws denying public health officials the ability to deal with mortal threats like Covid 19. Perhaps most significantly, we have seen Republicans everywhere, including their three announced candidates for the U.S. Senate from Ohio in 2022, pledge unwavering fealty to a man who, while still President, unquestionably “excited domestic insurrection amongst us” on January 6, 2021.
Contrary to conservative myth, the American Revolution was not about taxes. It was about taxation “without representation.” It arose from the perception that the colonies were being governed for the benefit of an elite in England rather than for the benefit of the people living in the colonies. One of our two major parties is today committed to government in America by and for a wealthy, white, predominantly male, elite.
As you sit by the pool or run your grill this weekend, please take a moment to think about how far Republicans are taking us away from the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence issued on July 4, 1776. There is more horrendous legislation moving through our Republican-controlled General Assembly in Columbus. There are important elections this year and next. We will return to those vitally important matters in future installments. For the present, I want to wish you an enjoyable, but thoughtful, Fourth of July.