On this day 236 years ago, a group of Americans got together and, pledging their Lives, their Fortunes and their sacred Honor to each other while relying on the protection of divine Providence, took our country free from tyranny and set us on a new, wholly experimental course.
These men openly acknowledged both our right and our duty to throw off any government that too badly violates its moral obligations to us sovereign citizens, that for too long abuses our liberties and our individual responsibilities. At the same time, though, they acknowledged that routinely rebelling at every small offense was equally wrong: Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. Yet those light and transient offenses want correction along with those abuses and moral failures.
And so, while fighting (and some dying) for our newly born nation and during the immediately ensuing years of a troubled peace, these men, with others from the newly independent and united States joining them, in a second phase of our experiment invented a wholly new form of government. They created a government that would recognize the essential sovereignty of the members of a voluntarily formed social compact over our compact’s government, and they gave that government a structure and a strictly limited set of authorities designed to maximize our control of government and our ability to maintain that control.
They also invented a wholly new mechanism for throwing off an abusive government and replacing it with one more suited to our needs and to our control: a set of elections that would let us turn all the rascals out of one house of our legislative body every two years, that would let us depose the whole of the other house of our legislative body in sequential one-third increments every two years, and that would let us fire the chief executive of this government every four years— any and all whom we found wanting during their time in office. This invention was accompanied by another invention of these men: a judiciary that sat, neither above nor below our executive and legislative, but equal to and separate from them—a third powerful check that granted stability to the whole.
We are here today arguing amongst ourselves, usually with great passion, over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, climate change, and a host of other things, too, both momentous and trivial. And we could not be without the genius and the sacrifice of those men those 236 years ago.
As you sit around by your barbecue, or at the beach, or wherever you may be, hamburgers and hotdogs in hand, beer nearby, children screaming and yelling in their own happinesses, take a moment to think about that.