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  • Michael Henry Dunn

Jefferson and '76 - Remembering the Vision, Renewing the Spirit

On this day 243 years ago, news could travel no faster than a horse could run or a ship could sail. It had been that way always, and as far as anyone knew, it would always be so. Money meant coin in gold, silver, or copper, and though one could write out a "bank draft," and though a rudimentary stock market existed on the Exchange in London, where "speculators" could drive a market dizzily up and down and financial panics could ensue, most people were immune from such upheaval and subsisted on farms or through trades learned from father to son. Women could not vote and were severely constrained in traditional roles. A well-trained soldier needed long precious seconds to reload his single-shot musket between firing, and while cannon could blow men to bits, and while civilians were raped and massacred by invaders in the usual appalling numbers, the wholesale slaughter to be wrought by machine guns was undreamed of, the idea of "total war" did not exist, and "weapons of mass destruction" were not yet even a distant nightmare. The concept of owning human beings as property to be disposed of as one pleased was the economic foundation of aristocratic landowners in the South, but had not yet been industrialized by the invention of the cotton gin. Indeed, around this time slavery would come within a couple of votes of being outlawed in Virginia, and the notion that Americans would kill 600,000 other Americans over the issue was inconceivable.

And on this day was born the United States of America.

It was a world almost unimaginably different from ours, and yet the motives that inspired the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the historical factors that shaped their times, and the ideals they cherished, are all still tangibly present to us - and in some cases are so compellingly relevant as to be unignorable.

To read today Thomas Jefferson's immortal assertion that "all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," is, for most Americans, merely taking in a truism, an established and hallowed concept in which we take pride, the foundation of "American Exceptionalism."

For the founders, it was a dangerous and revolutionary statement, on which they staked "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor," knowing (as Benjamin Franklin memorably put it) that "we must all hang together - or we shall surely hang separately."

In the end, the American Revolution was driven by the same forces that have impelled rebellion against authority for millenniums: the selfish domination of the many by the few, domination of those who have not by those who have, of the people by the "divine right" of kings. It was, as Abraham Lincoln later noted, the same principle, whether we call it oligarchy or plutocracy or by the plainer name of tyranny. It drove civil wars and revolutions in Ancient Greece, pre-Imperial Rome, Jacobean England, and would soon cause thousands of heads to roll in revolutionary France.

A retired head of U.S. Marine Intelligence recently noted that conditions for another such revolution are ripe in the United Kingdom, and in the United States.

The not-so-hidden hand of oligarchy now clearly controls the U.S. Congress, as noted in a study from Princeton University scholars which recently concluded that democracy is effectively a dead letter in America, with policy and legislation determined by moneyed interests, with the people's voice having a negligible impact on government. Meanwhile, as President Eisenhower warned us, the military-industrial complex has acquired not merely a "dangerous influence" but a determining hand, manufacturing wars to drive profit through its control of corporate media and through its puppets in the Congress and the Pentagon. And even slavery is alive and well, via the appalling reality of human trafficking on the one hand, and the industrialized mass-incarceration of the for-profit prison system on the other. Minorities and whites now begin to share equally in this oppression, as the cunning machinations of debt slavery, crippling health care costs, and the need to work two or three jobs just to get by, keep most Americans in a hand-to-mouth struggle for survival.

Americans still revere the Constitution, while being forced to acknowledge that it is being trampled on left and right. The balance of power between the elite and the people, between the patricians and the plebians, between the "lords and the Commons," which the Constitution sought to create, with Executive power checked by Congress and the Supreme Court, now appears to have been thoroughly corrupted and compromised. More Americans every day realize that the Red/Blue, Right/Left political circus is merely that - a meaningless sideshow meant to fool us with the trappings of democracy, so we don't see the all-controlling "man behind the curtain" spied out by Dorothy as the phony Wizard of Oz.

Meanwhile, a pervasive and lethally toxic system of surveillance and control is being imposed on the public by corrupted federal agencies in bed with the major telecomm companies, under the guise of the "faster downloads" of the 5G system, with the Intelligence Community eagerly poised on the sidelines to mine this motherlode of data on the private lives of every man, woman, and child in America.

In this moment, it would be well to remember that we are still a union of 50 more or less independent states, and that the nature of that union has been a fluid thing over the last 243 years - and may yet tear apart again as it did in the Civil War, to be perhaps reborn in a "more perfect" form. In the face of an oppressive and oligarchic federal government, secession movements by various groups of states are now gaining more than cursory attention, while some states (such as, predictably, Texas) are openly seeking to form their own gold reserves, independent of the tyrannical cabal known as the Federal Reserve. The need for a balance between a central government sufficiently strong to protect the people and pay its own debts on the one hand, and the rights and liberties of the states and the people on the other, is a debate that also goes back centuries, finding echoes again in Ancient Greece and Rome before being fiercely fought in the Revolutionary era between Alexander Hamilton's banker-allied Federalists and the Anti-Federalists (eventually emerging as the Democratic Party) led by Thomas Jefferson.

Americans, while fierce in war, are a mostly peaceful people when it comes to our politics. We crave stability, desire to trust our government, and cherish the belief that somehow, all shall be well if we just keep trudging forward.

But there is an end to our patience. "Don't Tread on Me" says the old flag, and it flies from many a militia center in every state in the Union. My personal belief is that the rebirth of the American spirit in a "more perfect union," will happen in mostly peaceful fashion, by fits and starts over the next ten years, with shocking events here and there and protracted struggles - and not without suffering.

As Jefferson noted, "we cannot expect to be carried from tyranny to freedom in a feather bed."

If we see each other first and foremost as fellow Americans, ignoring race and creed and political affiliation, seeking those same essential freedoms our ancestors died for, and which drew millions to these shores, then we can perhaps calmly read the remaining sentences in Jefferson's famous opening paragraph, and be prepared to stand for "self-evident" truth:

"...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."

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