The Declaration of Independence: The Most Punkrock Essay Ever Written

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As a writer, I’m really intrigued by language and the way it is used to communicate.

With that in mind, I want to conjure a little story for you. Just imagine that you and your fellow countrymen have decided to colonize a new land. You can imagine it’s another continent or you can pretend it’s a new planet. Whatever you want.

So, there you are, living in this colony. As time goes on, your colony starts to become more and more self-sufficient. You don’t need outside help anymore. The government in your home country is kind of slacking. In fact, as your government starts to give you less and less support they begin to downright harass you. Your friends and neighbors are getting hauled off and convicted for completely unjust criminal offenses. A military occupation is started and soldiers are barging into your homes and stealing your food and assaulting your family members.

Finally, you and some of your neighbors get together and decide you’ve had enough of this tyrannical government. You’re going to start a revolution. You’re going to stand up to these injustices. Now, here’s where the story gets really amazing.

You and your friends are so brave, so badass, that you decide you aren’t going to be some underground, secretive band of guerrilla freedom fighters. No. You actually get together and write it all down. You put your intentions on paper. Then, you make copies of this declaration and you send it off to the leaders of other countries all around the world, including to your own government. On top of all that, every last one of you signs it. You put your names on it!

Now, keep in mind, just because you and your neighbors are pissed off doesn’t mean all your neighbors are on your side. Some of your neighbors still support the tyrannical government. You don’t know everyone in your town. You don’t know how many neighbors are on your side or how many neighbors would betray you. And you just wrote a giant “fuck you” to your dictator, sent copies to the whole world, and signed your name to it!

That sounds like the plot of a crazy Hollywood movie. But it’s not. It’s exactly what really happened when the United States of America composed The Declaration of Independence – the most punkrock essay ever written. This great nation was founded by men with balls of solid rock.

I often wonder, how well do you think those men who signed the Declaration of Independence slept that night?

Can you imagine what they were going through emotionally? Did any of them go running off to the docks at midnight, trying to stop the ships from sailing? “Wait! Wait! I changed my mind! Take my name off the… oh, shit!… Fuck!”

They go sulking back home, “What the fuck was I thinking?”

You can tell how scared everyone was by how small they signed their names. Like they were hoping if the revolution didn’t pan out, maybe no one would notice their signature. And what about John Hancock? That crazy bastard must have been really pissed off. John Hancock must have been insane! He was just like, “Gimmie that quill, bitches! I’ll show you how to sign a fuck you to King George!”

It’s easy for us to look back on history and imagine the way things played out were the only way things could have gone. But of course, that’s never true. Not at all. We might have lost. There was no guarantee we were going to beat the King of England. No one ever had. England was the most powerful empire in the world. Do you know how many countries ever beat the British Empire in a war? With the exception of the Norman invasion, England pretty much kicked everyone’s ass all the time. There were British colonies all around the world because the English were some serious thugs. Historically speaking, there was a really good chance we American Colonies were going to get the crap kicked out of us. King George III was probably going to win. We didn’t stand a chance. If America had lost the Revolutionary War every single man who signed the Declaration of Independence would have been executed. And do you think the tyrannical King of England would have shown mercy to their families? No. If your name was on that list, your wife and your children and your extended family of aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins would probably be executed too. And most likely, not in a quick and merciful fashion. Probably in a way that would be painful. And take long time. In fact, if you signed the Declaration of Independence and we lost the war, King George III would probably make you watch how he executes your family and kill you last.

The men who signed that document, our founding fathers, were some damn brave motherfuckers.

Today, the Declaration of Independence is just as relevant as it was 200 year ago. We face the same dangers. The same threats. Our freedom and liberty must continue to be carefully safeguarded against the rise of tyranny.

Have you read the Declaration of Independence? I don’t mean in high school when you didn’t give a shit about it. I mean have you read it? Really paid attention to what was being said?

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

That is a damn fine and noble opening. I particularly love the phrase “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” as it shows a magnanimous tip of the hat to all the world. They were simply explaining that they wanted to be free and this document would tell you why.

The second paragraph is even more impressive.

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.

Hilarious that there are ignorant people who claim our nation was not founded under religious pretenses when “God” and “Creator” are mentioned in the first two sentences. Notice it says “among these”. In other words, life liberty and the pursuit of happiness are only a few of our unalienable rights. This infers that all men possess additional unalienable rights. I personally declare that among those unnamed rights are the unfettered freedom to speak and write ones opinions, and the right to self-defense through whatever means necessary. Which of course mirror the first two items in the Bill of Rights, but that’s an essay for another day. The declaration goes on to say…

- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

Two things to note are “just powers” and “consent” – the powers of government must be justified and fair. It doesn’t say “unlimited powers” or “tyrannical powers” or “oppressive powers” or even “powers” alone; no, it specifically says “just powers”. What is more, these powers derive from the consent of the people. Consent. These just powers do not override the will of the people, such powers only exist with our consent. In other words, the government has no power unless we the people permit the government to have it. And the powers they do possess must be justified. That’s pretty punk rock.

I’ve known some police officers who misguidedly believed that their job was simply to enforce the law. However, this is absolutely not true. The caveat of consent means blind obedience is specifically prohibited. There must be a personal morality at work to define that which is just. Unjust orders or laws need not be tolerated. As government workers, law enforcement personnel can only enforce just powers from the consent of the governed. No one in the government has any power or authority to enforce laws which are unjust nor do the citizens need to conform to injustice. The Declaration of Independence is the founding document and therefore supersedes all other laws, including the Constitution. Members of the military and armed forces all swear an oath to defend and protect the Constitution. But again, they are only imbued with just powers from the consent of the governed. Nothing more. They are under the moral obligation of upholding their oath to defy and refuse to enforce any laws or orders which are immoral or unconstitutional.

In fact, the Declaration of Independence proves this by going on to say the most punkrock stanza of all…

- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,

Let me pause here. Let’s think about that. The founders of our nation deemed this a self-evident truth! The very document used to create the United States of America encourages the citizens to destroy the government if need be! Start a revolution – to alter or abolish the government if the government ever stops supporting our liberties. This one line is an astounding statement. How many countries in the history of humanity have ever been that radical? How many nations have been built upon the principal that we will burn this mother down and start over if we have to? Of everything written in the Declaration, that single sentence is more punkrock than any fiction. That one line illustrates a sense of righteousness and determination the likes of which most people have never experienced. It goes on to say…

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.

Once again, the Declaration reiterates that all governmental power is granted through the will of the people. The citizens are the ultimate authority in this great nation. Not kings or courts or judges or politicians or military forces. The people are the ones who determine the course of their safety and happiness and we American citizens possess the sole authority to empower the government to enforce those ideals.

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.

That is an astonishing statement to place in a political document. Rather than declare a stance or voice an edict, it instead acknowledges a weakness of the human psyche. So much truth and wisdom (plus an esoteric observation of human tendencies) in a single sentence. While the declaration reminds the people that we have a duty and an obligation to start a revolution if our government becomes tyrannical, it also reminds us that our motives for said revolt must be duly justified. Citizens are required to overthrow tyranny, but we shouldn’t dismantle governments for lighthearted reasons. That wouldn’t be sensible. Sedition can only be vindicated by severe (and often not until they are prolonged) violations of ones liberty.

On the flipside, that sentence also reminds us not to tolerate too much crap. Our founding fathers remind us that human beings are likely to sit on their butts and tolerate scumbags longer than we should. Far easier to just sit back and endure the nonsense than to rise up and battle a war. The problem there is that the tyrants know this too. Oil companies did that to us. Remember? Back in 2007 or so they raised gas prices and raised them and raised them, until the people couldn’t take it anymore, and stopped buying gas. Then the prices miraculously dropped back down just low enough for people to find it sufferable without storming the gates. Why do we tolerate such greed? Because as our forefathers predicted, mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

The Declaration reminds us…

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Once again, the Declaration of Independence reiterates their cause and their determination to do this right. Again, it declares we’ll tear down the whole place and start over if the government screws up. How many documents founding a nation encourage the citizens to start a revolution and destroy the government? Only ours. America was founded by rebels and outlaws who just couldn’t take anymore freedoms being stripped away. Our founders reminded the world that we will become outlaws again if need be. The Declaration concludes with three eloquent paragraphs.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

That paragraph is so fantastic because it calls out King George III on so many levels. We admit that we tried to reason with him. We voice our anger at how he ignored us. Then we clearly declare that he is unfit to be a king if that’s going to be his attitude.

The next paragraph is wonderful too because it reiterates our desire to remain amicable to our fellow Englishmen. We basically say, “If you are an English citizen and you support us, we are your allies. If you support the King, you are also our enemy.” But listen to how beautifully those sentiments are written.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

Finally, we get to the paragraph that lays it all on the line, the declaration of our independence. Note there is also a strong reference to God in this next sentence, when the founders cite their desire to appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world.

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.

The Declaration of Independence is the most eloquent and articulate “fuck you” ever written, ending with a beautifully composed sentence of unity and brotherhood which states:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Once again, our forefathers declare their conviction in God. Their reverence for Divine Providence is irrefutable proof of their faith in forces beyond themselves at work. The beauty of the phrase Divine Providence instead of “God” shows an ignostic respect for the spiritual beliefs of everyone involved. For any religion, including atheism, can acknowledge that the mysteries of serendipity may be rooted in forces we do not yet understand, and that we can pay homage to under the phrase Divine Providence.

More than that, it vows to protect and defend each other. They acknowledge that we are all in this together. A noble sentiment written by men who understood that honor was sacred, promises are to be kept, and word is bond.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. The most defiant and punkrock manifesto every put to parchment – our magnanimous Declaration of Independence. The supreme law of the land. The founding words. The basis of all our ideals. The brave and reckless document that started the American Revolution, and won our freedom.