POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Independence Day 2008

by David Trumbull

June 27, 2008

“…In this character of the Americans, a love of freedom is the predominating feature which marks and distinguishes the whole…This fierce spirit of liberty is stronger in the English Colonies probably than in any other people of the earth...”
--Edmund Burke, addressing the English House of Commons, March 22, 1775.

At ten o'clock on the morning of Friday, July 4, the Declaration of Independence will be read out to the assembled people from the balcony of the Old State House just as it first was in Boston on July 18, 1776.

The document is tripartite. The preamble contains a general justification of self-government. It ends with the formal declaration of severance of ties to Great Britain and the establishment of a new sovereign entity, the United States of America. Between the beautiful prose of “When in the Course of human Events...”, and “We hold these Truths to be self-evident…” and the precise legal statement of the resolution for independency in the final paragraph lies an enumeration of the outrages of King George III which justify this revolutionary act.

They are—or ought to be—familiar to us from our studies in school and from hearing them in public recitations every Fourth of July. They would have been familiar to hearers in 1776 as well, at to those with any knowledge of English history and English law. The American’s bill of indictment of King George echoes in many ways the 1689 English Bill of Rights—an indictment of the King James II after he abdicated the throne, which declared that the king had subverted the laws and liberties of his kingdom:

    By assuming and exercising a power of dispensing with and suspending of laws and the execution of laws without consent of Parliament;

    By committing and prosecuting divers worthy prelates for humbly petitioning to be excused from concurring to the said assumed power;

    By issuing and causing to be executed a commission under the great seal for erecting a court called the Court of Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes;

    By levying money for and to the use of the Crown by pretence of prerogative for other time and in other manner than the same was granted by Parliament;

    By raising and keeping a standing army within this kingdom in time of peace without consent of Parliament, and quartering soldiers contrary to law;

    By causing several good subjects being Protestants to be disarmed at the same time when papists were both armed and employed contrary to law;

    By violating the freedom of election of members to serve in Parliament;

    By prosecutions in the Court of King's Bench for matters and causes cognizable only in Parliament, and by divers other arbitrary and illegal courses;

The American patriots quoted with slight modifications many of those phrases. They improved on the English precedent by dropping the anti-Catholic language which to this day mars the British constitution.

[David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.]