My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. I’ve spent the past few days in the cradle of American rebellion and walked the path that patriots trod. It was a moving experience – especially when all of us were celebrating Independence Day.
The Fourth of July is a time of reflection and celebration for Americans. As our nation suffers another bout of agitation at the hands of bullies and opportunists to restrict our right to keep and bear arms, a look back at the Declaration of Independence and the events leading up to it serves as a healthy reminder for why our Founders understood the need to protect that right from our new government in the first place.
The Declaration of Independence is one of the most stirring and consequential documents in history. While its official purpose was to list the Americans’ grievances against the British government and inform said government the colonies were breaking off into a new nation, Thomas Jefferson’s beautiful affirmation of individual rights and self-governance is unparalleled.
In three short paragraphs, the Declaration lays out the argument that individual people have unalienable rights and that governments are instituted by the consent of the governed to protect those rights. When a government becomes destructive to those rights, it is both the right and duty of the governed to change or overthrow that government and institute a new one. The truth of this argument is the cornerstone of our Republic and the wellspring of our American Experiment.
But the men who signed the Declaration of Independence knew that the task of actually overthrowing a government was not done with petitions or speeches. It was done with blood and iron. Jefferson conveys this truth in the fourth paragraph of the Declaration when he wrote, “…it is their right [the People’s], it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
By the time the Declaration was written, much blood had already been spilt trying to cast off the yoke of an oppressive government. Six years prior, in response to continued agitation over heavy taxes imposed by the Townshend Acts, British soldiers who were quartered in Boston gunned down protesting citizens, killing five of them, in what became known as the Boston Massacre.
Conditions continued to deteriorate between the government and the governed. In April 1775, British soldiers marched out of Boston to Concord with the intent of seizing weapons that were being used by the colonists. The battles of Lexington and Concord ensued. After killing eight militiamen in Lexington, the British pushed on to Concord and torched the few remaining weapons that had not already been spirited away. As the British marched back to Boston, the famous Minutemen, called that because they could grab the guns in their homes and respond to a threat at a minute’s notice, swarmed through the woods and harassed the British column until they reached the safety of their Navy.
In retaliation, the British laid siege to Boston. On June 17, 1775, the Americans fought a pitched battle against the occupying force as the British moved to fortify the hills around Boston. During the Battle of Bunker Hill, the British regulars trudged up a bloody hill to force out entrenched American militiamen to win the day. For the price of their victory, the British suffered more than a thousand casualties and came to the realization that the price of continued subjugation would be very high.
The men who wrote and ratified the Declaration of Independence, and later, the Bill of Rights, knew full well that it is a bloody business to battle a tyrannical government, but it is sometimes the only way to preserve the rights of the people. They also knew full well that if it were not for the arms that the Minutemen and thousands of other Americans brought with them to fight the British, the Revolution would have been lost.
The reason that our right to keep and bear arms is preserved in our Bill of Rights is precisely to preserve our ability to “throw off such Government.” An armed citizenry can never be subjugated except by its own consent.
As our politicians debate more gun control laws using arguments about hunting or self-defense, we must remind them that the use of firearms for those purposes is a beneficial byproduct of our right to keep and bear arms. But the reason for preserving that right is far more important than those uses. Our right to keep and bear arms must be preserved as the last bastion of defense of our liberty.