Robbins: Born on the Fourth of July is more than just a saying
I called a bike shop in Denver the other day to ask if they were open on the Fourth of July. My plan was to do a little riding around Denver over the holiday weekend.
When I asked if they were open on the Fourth, the guy who answered — I think he said his name was Phil — said, and I quote, “We will be closed on the Fourth, celebrating our nation’s freedom from the oppression of tyranny.”
Not your typical bike line, I thought.
I said, “Was Britain really that great a tyrant?”
Phil replied — and again, I quote — “Apparently, according to the American oligarchs of the time.”
Hmmm… Although “oligarch” probably wasn’t exactly the right term, I got Phil’s point. Phil, I thought, had been doing some heavy thinking while wrastlin’ a hex wrench, never mind the Insane Clown Posse’s “Juggalo Homies” thrumming in the background. Phil was, I thought, a man I should meet when I got to Denver.
Phil, I figured, was not a guy to mess with. I arranged to bring my Trek in on the July 5, when, Phil assured me, the celebrating of our liberation from tyranny would be concluded.
So, I got to thinking.
Other than fireworks, a cold one, and a turkey brat, what exactly are we — or should we be — celebrating on July 4? The short answer is, of course, “our independence.” But what exactly does that mean? And what, exactly did that mean in the context of the times — oligarchs or not?
A birth announcement
Think of the Fourth of July, if you will, as a birth announcement, announcing the birth of an independent nation on July 2, 1776. Yep, July 2, not July 4. July 2 was the date the Continental Congress adopted what was known as the Lee Resolution to declare the united colonies’ independence from Great Britain. July 4 was merely the date of the announcement. But let’s not quibble, the result was pretty much the same.
The Declaration, penned by dashing young Thomas Jefferson, was explicit, detailing the causes that impelled the colonists to avow their separate existence. This “bill of particulars” detailed all the wrongs and injustices visited upon the colonies by Mother England. Before we get there, though, in the opening paragraphs of the Declaration, Jefferson laid out what has come to be known as the American Creed.
He wrote that, in separating from Great Britain, the united colonies grounded their claim to political independence upon individual human rights. Among these were the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” rights, Jefferson declared for his generation and all generations in posterity, to which all human beings are said to be equally entitled. Let’s not distract ourselves here with the thorny issue of slavery, which took unfortunate decades to address or the not-so-equal rights of women of the day.
In giving voice to four “self-evident truths” (natural equality, inalienable individual rights, government founded on the consent of the governed, and the people’s right of revolution), Jefferson, on behalf of the colonists, boldly advanced that ours would be a nation based on a set of philosophical principles and beliefs rather than on ties of blood, soil, power, wealth, or lineage. The sentiment, if not the immediate execution of it, was something spectacular and something entirely new under the sun. It’s hard for us to grasp today, but never had this been done before.
This birth announcement was good stuff indeed.
The bill of particulars was (with a tip of my hat to Phil) more nuts and bolts.
Let me, first, however, slip in a little legalism here. “A” (rather than “the”) bill of particulars, at law, is a written statement used in both civil and criminal actions that is submitted by a plaintiff or a prosecutor at the request of a defendant, giving the defendant detailed information concerning the claims or charges made against him or her. As such, “the” Bill of Particulars with which the colonists accused The Crown were the “charges” that the colonists leveled against Olde England.
To coin what is likely a Hatfield-and-McCoy-ism, “them was fightin’ words.” And, as history reveals, fight they did.
The Bill of Particulars laid out 28 specific grievances against the Crown, including limiting self-governance, limiting judiciary powers, the imposition of “foreign” armies among the colonists, limiting free trade, and imposing taxation without representation.
In sum, it was an indictment against the king, against tradition and, yes, Phil, against tyranny.
What we really celebrate on Independence Day is the birth of a new ideal based on the rights of all men rather than silently suffering beneath the weight of moldy tradition and imperial privilege and caprice. We declared, in other words, the right to be ourselves.
By the way, as it turned out, Phil was just as handy with a wrench as he was with a phrase. In another day, he might have thrown his backside on a pew in the Old South Meeting House beside Ben Franklin instead of atop a Troupé Comp Gel saddle.
Happy Independence to us, one and all.
And rock on, Freedom Phil.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody and divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.