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“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.–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.” – Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, 1776

When you dig down past the hot dogs, sparklers, and fireworks, what Americans celebrate on the Fourth of July is armed rebellion against their lawful government.

In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote a stirring, elegant summary of the philosophy of individual liberty.  He also explained in detail why it was the Colonists’ sacred duty to abolish their government. He was a reluctant rebel, provoked to it by a “…long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object… to reduce [the people] under absolute Despotism.”  In the face of such abuse there was no other choice: “… it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government…”, he wrote.

Although we revere the document and every schoolchild recognizes at least the key words in the intro, armed rebellion against the government has become inconceivable to modern Americans.

I confirmed my reputation as an angry extremist with one of my readers recently when I asked him what his government would have to do to make him to say “no” with a rifle. He had no answer. He dodged the question. I asked again, strictly as a thought exercise, simply to try to imagine some government action that would merit armed resistance. Once again he hedged and added heroically that he would gladly have blown himself up to kill Hitler. Sure. Me too. Hindsight is infallible.

Identifying a growing tyranny is trickier.

My reader was incapable of imagining armed opposition to his government. He could not conceive of a situation that would make it our right, our duty, to “alter or abolish” our government by force. Most Americans appear to be similarly handicapped.

Jefferson also wrote, “And what country can preserve its liberties, if it’s rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.” He would have been incredulous and appalled by the modern citizen’s lack of spirit and imagination. 

The Declaration included a list of what the Crown had done to earn American rebellion. It was a long list, much of it irrelevant to our time, but it included a few items we should recognize today. 

He accused the Crown of making “…Judges dependent on his will alone…” I thought of the extensive manipulations Congress makes in selecting judges and the political dismissal of prosecutors. 

The British also “…deprived us of the benefits of Trial by Jury.” Although jury trials are still available, juries are no longer aware, nor may they be informed by anyone in the courtroom of their power to judge both the facts and the law. Without such power a jury is simply an approval committee for government prosecutors.

Jefferson complained that the king had “…erected a multitude of new Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat our their substance.” He had no idea.

Imagine what Tom would have thought of getting frisked and having to remove his silver-buckled pumps before boarding public transport. Never mind the “swarms” of drones working for “swarms” of three letter agencies like the DEA, IRS, ATF, FBI, FDA, USDA, DOC, DOE, HHS, HUD, DOL, DOI, DOT, and many more. What Jefferson considered a swarm of officials wouldn’t staff the reception desks of the bureaucracies we have today.

If you lived on a farm in colonial times, as most did, you could go your whole life without meeting a representative of the Crown. In many American communities today government employees and pensioners outnumber private citizens.

The Declaration expressed resentment at having a standing army in peacetime. The U.S. government has had a standing army of millions for more than three generations.

Jefferson accused the king of protecting soldiers who murdered civilians. FBI agents and Delta Force soldiers murdered dozens of men, women and children in the Waco Holocaust. They were commended and promoted, not tried for crimes. Though a jury found the Waco survivors not guilty all are serving long prison sentences.

Every year innocent citizens are killed and wounded in mistaken raids by local and federal SWAT teams. SWAT team members are immune from the consequences of their mistaken assaults and murders.

Jefferson reminded the king that at every stage of his oppression the Colonists had “… petitioned for redress in the most humble terms.” An appeals court just declared that the We the People Foundation has no right to petition the government for answers to income tax questions.

In the last few years the Supremes have decided that local governments can condemn private property and give it to the highest tax bidder, that federal law overrules state law on medical marijuana and that where drugs are concerned there is no first amendment, supporting a student’s expulsion from school for showing a “Bong Hits for Jesus” banner at a rally.

I’m not suggesting we should take up arms to correct any of these limits on our rights. Taken alone they hardly seem worth fighting for.  But taken together I suspect Jefferson would have recognized a “train of abuses.” How long the train will get or whether Americans will ever see fit to derail it, no one knows.

The Colonists didn’t start shooting until the British came for their guns in Concord, Massachusetts. Many have said that’s where Americans would draw the line, that the feds will have to pry our guns from our cold dead fingers.  But recent events after Hurricane Katrina showed that when confronted by officials demanding private arms, we will simply hand them over. Once that’s done, the question of armed rebellion is moot.

This Fourth of July let’s try to remember that we are, in theory at least, a free people, celebrating our right and duty to overthrow a despotic government by force.

In the spirit of rebellion, I suggest you do something illegal. It should be easy. You can hardly go through a day without breaking a law. Just launching a bottle rocket or pumping a few rounds from the Glock into your lawn will make you subject to arrest most places. Try it! Celebrate armed rebellion and think about what might make it a good idea.