The Lessons of Independence

National Bureau of Standards preserving the Un...
Image via Wikipedia

Independence Day always brings out the history teacher in me.

Don’t worry; it’s safe.

Schools are closed so I can do the pure stuff instead of social studies

Not that there’s anything wrong with social studies,

Today I heard the Declaration of Independence read on the radio.

I’ve read the Declaration of Independence many times and I will read it many more times, but there is something special about hearing it read.

Back in the day, hearing the Declaration read is how most people learned of its content.

Most of the time, when people read it to themselves, they rarely get deep into the meat of it.

For example, when was the last time you read beyond “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Heady stuff, that, but not the meat and potatoes.

Not like:

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — 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, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Many think that the next sentence has particular meaning these contentious days.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Detail of King George III (in coronation robes).

Image via Wikipediahe forms to which they are accustomed.”

The next 18 paragraphs all start with the word “he”.

Pop Quiz (my students hate when I do this): who is this ‘he’?

Okay, there were plenty of complaints and they’re all laid out. Now what?

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.” [Italics added]

Free and Independent States.

That means a nation called Delaware and one called Georgia.

Another nation calling itself South Carolina and it borders on the nation of North Carolina.

There were to also be Independent States, aka sovereign nations, called New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York, Massachusetts and Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

I know. It is hard to think of tiny Rhode Island as a sovereign nation, but Monaco, Tuvalu and Nauru all seem to do okay even if no one can find them on a map or recognize their flag.

And we’re not even going to mention that other tiny powerhouse, Vatican City.

When you think about those 13 colonies these days we hardly ever realize that in 1776 almost no one was thinking, much less talking, about anything called the United States.

The only reference to anything of the sort, “…the Representatives of the united States of America…” is not the same as ‘…Representatives of the United States of America….’

The lower case ‘u’ was not a typo, it was a deliberate reference to 13 separate colony/countries that just happened to be working together for this one task: taking on the most powerful nation in the world at that time.

That we are a country today and celebrating the 234th anniversary of that treasonous declaration is a doubly unlikely.

That the rebellious colonialists were successful against the forces of the King was unexpected even by them.

But the bigger victory is that despite sharp disagreements about philosophy, despite competing economic interests and despite religious differences, those 13 now independent sovereign states were able to come together.

Philadelphia - Old City: Independence Hall - T...
Image by wallyg via Flickr

They argued long and hard, but in the end they figured out how to compromise and come together as United States for the greater good of all the citizens they represented.

That, not the pursuit of happiness, is the lesson we need to focus on today and in the future.

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3 Responses to The Lessons of Independence

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Deven Black, Michael Josefowicz. Michael Josefowicz said: The Best Fourth of July post for #education I've found so far [ http://ilnk.me/3260 @spedteacher blog ] #edchat [...]

  2. David Mach says:

    Yes, there certainly is something special about teaching American Independence.

    I look forward to sharing your insight with my students.

    I am trained as a Language Arts teacher, but my job required me to teach Social Studies to middle school students. As a result, I have fallen love with teaching American Independence.

    Glad to connect with someone who loves it too!

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