Barbara Ehrenreich gets to the nub of the Declaration of Independence and why it still might matter to us.
But it is the final sentence of the declaration that deserves the closest study: "And for the support of this Declaration . . . we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." Today, those who believe that the war on terror requires the sacrifice of our liberties like to argue that "the Constitution is not a suicide pact." In a sense, however, the Declaration of Independence was precisely that.
By signing Jefferson's text, the signers of the declaration were putting their lives on the line. England was then the world's greatest military power, against which a bunch of provincial farmers had little chance of prevailing. Benjamin Franklin wasn't kidding around with his quip about hanging together or hanging separately. If the rebel American militias were beaten on the battlefield, their ringleaders could expect to be hanged as traitors.
They signed anyway, thereby stating to the world that there is something worth more than life, and that is liberty. Thanks to their courage, we do not have to risk death to preserve the liberties they bequeathed us. All we have to do is vote.
Happy Independence Day. And here's to you: the brave and iconoclastic believers in liberty. Freedom with nuance -- the kind that Bush just doesn't get.