Res Publica

Citizens, Not Subjects.

July 4, 2014

 

On this date in 1776 the delegates to the Second Continental Congress declared that the people they represented were citizens of the United States and not subjects of His Britannic Majesty, George III.

 

The document by which this shift of allegiance and status was proclaimed 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 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-evidentů" 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.

 

To declare that men and women are not subjects of a monarch but citizens of a republic was both revolutionary and prophetic. To quote part of a prayer for Independence Day "...The founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn..." It was also rooted in history.

 

The founders looked back to the ancient democracy of Athens, the republic of Rome, and to the words of the Hebrew prophet Samuel. In Chapter 8 of the First Book of Samuel we are told that the elders of Israel came to Samuel and asked him make them a king like all the nations. Samuel relayed this request to God, and the Lord said to Samuel:

 

"Tell them this will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you:

 

"He will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest.... (1 Sam. 8:12) and

 

"He will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers." (1 Sam. 8:13) and

 

"He will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. (1 Sam. 8:14) and

 

"He will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. (1 Sam. 8:16)

 

Compare those verses to this indictment of King George III in the Declaration of Independence: "He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance."

 

The Declaration continues: "He has kept among us, in times of peace standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures."

 

Now compare that to:

 

"He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. (1 Sam. 8:11) and

 

"He will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them ... to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots." (1 Sam. 8:12)

 

The Declaration goes on to indict the King for: "Imposing Taxes on us without our Consent."

 

The Lord, through Samuel, had something to say about that as well"

 

"He will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. (1 Sam. 8:15) and

 

"He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. (1 Sam. 8:17)

 

The passage from the Old Testament ends: "And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day." It would be many centuries before men and women would live as citizens rather than subjects. That is why we celebrate the Fourth of July.