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How the Declaration of Independence Explains Political News in 2018

Complaining about the government never goes out of style.

If you take a moment this July 4 to re-read the Declaration of Independence, it may help you make better sense of the latest headlines.

The founders of the United States of America didn't just declare independence from Great Britain. They wrote a statement explaining their reasoning. Two-hundred-and-forty-two years later, we're navigating some of the same issues.

President Trump's immigration crackdown? The Declaration of Independence complained that King George III "has endeavoured (sic) to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither."

President Trump's tariff threats and the risks they may pose to international trade? The Declaration of Independence had faulted George III "for cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world."

President Trump's encouraging Justice Anthony Kennedy to resign so Trump could reshape the Supreme Court? The Declaration criticized George III for having "made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices."

President Trump's tension with European leaders over the G-7 summit communiqué, trade, and funding NATO? It has echoes of the Declaration's statement that "these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved."

Even the language of the anti-Trump "resistance" and its warnings of incipient fascism recalls the Declaration of Independence's language accusing George III of wanting "the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States," and of acts that characterize "a Tyrant…unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

Donald Trump is not precisely either George III or the Continental Congress. Today's anti-Trump "resistance" isn't exactly the Continental Congress, either. One big and essential difference is that Trump was elected, unlike George III.

It turns out, though, that the issues outlined in the Declaration of Independence—international trade, immigration, choosing judges, political connections with Europe, the threat of "tyranny"—have a way of preoccupying citizens and bedeviling politicians even when the executive is elected rather than crowned.

Some may find it disheartening to discover that nearly 250 years on, the controversies over these issues are unresolved. Will Americans be feuding with Europe, and with each other, over tariffs, treaties, and tyranny, over judges and immigration, 250 years from now?

Another way to look at it, though, is that the duration of these debates is actually kind of reassuring. The United States has endured and even flourished through nearly two and a half centuries of quarreling about these issues. The platforms have changed—now we're arguing on cable television and on the Twitter mobile phone app, instead of in letters written with quills and carried on horseback. The topics of debate, though, are remarkably constant.

By that standard, President Trump and the response to him aren't unprecedented, or even deeply unusual. They are part of a long-running pattern, set in motion in 1776 or even earlier.

The persistent conflicts haven't prevented remarkable progress. America abolished slavery, expanded the vote to include women, and built itself from a brand-new collection of former colonies into the world's unparalleled military and economic superpower. We haven't yet, however, managed to settle once and for all some of the issues that animated the nation's founding.

In some sense that may even be healthy. Our foreboding about tyranny may have prevented us from sliding into it. Our founding opposition to political connections with Europe may have helped us avoid being dragged down into some of that continent's decline.

And if, since 1776, America's internal conflicts about trade, immigration, and judges have been settled mostly peacefully, we have to thank for it a founding generation that followed up the Declaration of Independence with a remarkably resilient and inspired Constitution. It is something to celebrate, too, this year on Independence Day.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative.

Photo Credit: Jay Mallin/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  • Longtobefree||

    Yep.
    How do you like taxation WITH representation?

  • perlchpr||

    I'm not convinced that I actually have meaningful representation.

  • Rich||

    "Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

    Sheesh, what more do you want?

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    For the government to actually respect and follow that.

  • Rich||

    "'Petition' all you want."

  • Daniel||

    "President Trump's immigration crackdown? The Declaration of Independence complained that King George III "has endeavoured (sic) to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither.""

    The issue is with Illegal Immigration of those not wanting become Americans, not legal immigration of those that want to integrate. Our immigration laws and processes need to be improved and made more efficient but we do not need open borders.

  • lulz farmer||

    "Integration" is a dangerous fantasy that doesn't exist in reality when it comes to genetically disparate groups.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Ok, that's totally lame, making this about Trump, when our federal government has been replicating the abuses listed in the Declaration of Independence for decades, and with far less of a stretch needed to justify the charge.

    For instance: "President Trump's immigration crackdown? The Declaration of Independence complained that King George III "has endeavoured (sic) to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither.""

    The truth of the matter is that the already existing population of these states thinks they are ALREADY populated, and are irate about the government deliberately inviting in more people to replace us. That self-government has been failing on an increasing number of topics because our rulers have become an insular, self-perpetuating class with interests and opinions distinct from the general population.

    The political system's horror of Trump is that he made it to the highest office while not being a member of that class, and threatens to restore representative government on topics the ruling class had thought safely beyond the reach of democracy.

    Oh, and a quibble: "sic" is utterly inappropriate to use in the case of archaic spellings in archaic documents. The word was correctly spelled for its time.

  • Jerryskids||

    Yeah, it's really fucked up to compare Trump to King George III when half the people here would prefer he be compared to a God-Emperor.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Insisting that if somebody thinks Trump is, on net, better than the available alternatives, they must worship the ground he walks on?

    Even lamer than the above essay.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    Opposed to the ones that prefer Obama be compared to God-Emperor by thinking a pen and phone could write law.

  • Rhywun||

    The word was correctly spelled for its time.

    It's still correctly spelled today, even.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    I'm getting the distinct impression that a lot of people around here don't really believe this part anymore, especially not the "all men" part. Are foreigners "created equal" compared to Americans? If so, then they are endowed with the same natural rights as Americans are. If it's wrong to restrict the liberty of Americans in a certain area, then it would be just as wrong to restrict the liberty of foreigners in that same area. But I see a lot of people advocating for what I call "gated community libertarianism" - they want maximal liberty for everyone living in the gated community, but to erect large gates and fences to keep everyone else out of their little paradise inside. What's more they'll advocate for harsh measures to keep the foreigners out, measures that they would never condone being used against themselves. "Liberty for me, but not for thee". I don't see how this mentality squares with the central premise of the Declaration of Independence. I think if the DoI were to be rewritten today, it would say something along the lines of "Americans are superior to y'all, so just fuck off". And I think that's just incredibly sad, personally.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    I think you're demonstrating a bit of confusion about what equal rights entails.

    You've got a right to your home, I've got a right to my home, but that doesn't mean you have a right to ENTER my home.

    Non-Americans, inherently, are entitled to all the natural rights of Americans. And they're entitled to exercise those rights in their own countries, not here. Living in America isn't a natural right of all people, it's a constitutional right of Americans.

    Yes, and I call it "gated community libertarianism", too. I think that's a good description of all libertarianism can feasibly be, in a hostile, and mostly unfree world.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Some of the open border people choose to confuse anarchy and Libertarianism.

    Anarchy allows for people to go anywhere for any reason. Its absolute Liberty.

    Libertarianism (Claissic Liberalism) allows for Americans to freely travel internationally and travel around the USA they are invited or in public open areas. Its maximum Liberty with property rights.

  • sarcasmic||

    Some law and order fetishists choose to confuse rule of man with rule of law. With no guiding principles other than might makes right, they suck on authority's cock in hopes that violence will jizz on people they don't like.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    You want rule of man because you are an anarchist. Toughest kid on the block wins.

    I want rule of law based on the Constitution. All Americans are treated equally under the rule of law.

  • sarcasmic||

    You want laws that impose the will of man upon society as long as it hurts people you don't like. Obedience is all you care about.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Laws are to be imposed by a Constitutional majority and can be repealed at any time.

    I don't want anarchy like you do.

    Maximum freedom under Rule of Law is what I want. Its Libertarianism.

  • lulz farmer||

    Anarchy also allows me to shoot people who are invading me. People who call themselves "anarchists" I've found are without exception gated community bougie sheltered people with no experience in the real world who imagine their rarefied bubble will remain when their open borders retardation turns their country into Turkey or Brazil.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Non-Americans, inherently, are entitled to all the natural rights of Americans. And they're entitled to exercise those rights in their own countries, not here.

    WTF does "our Creator" care about national borders? No, everyone is entitled to have their natural rights respected everywhere. The whole POINT of a government is to respect those rights.

    And "gated community libertarianism" transforms liberty from a state in which it is the natural right of all people, into a situation in which liberty is a privilege that only the chosen few, living in the gates, may partake in. It is not libertopia, it is District 1 from Hunger Games. That's the problem.

  • sarcasmic||

    Look. No papers, no rights. A biped without papers is an animal and should be treated as such. Round them up, take their children, put them in camps, and let the guards have their fun. After all, they're only animals. If they were human beings they would have papers.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Immigrants dont need papers. They are not Americans so they have no right to enter the USA.

  • sarcasmic||

    They are not human. Hunt them down. Put them in camps. Take their children. Torture them for fun. They have no rights. Starve them. Gas them. It's not like they are people.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    No, they're just as human as you or me, and they're free to be just as human as you or me someplace else.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    So the state should use violence against them so that we can have liberty. That is your argument. "Liberty for me but not for thee"

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Americans get to pick who lives in America and that power is given to Congress with the president to execute immigration laws.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Sarcasmic, Slow your murderous rampage anarchist.

    How about we just deport them?

  • Azathoth!!||

    Humans are animals. Papers or not. Like all animals, they will defend their territory and they will fight when it is threatened.

    Being sentient animals, humans set up an elaborate system of imaginary lines to stop the killing.

    But they are still animals.

    Take away that system and the bloodshed will resume.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    ""Look. No papers, no rights"'

    Except some of those are not actually rights, but restrictions on government actions. These apply to government regardless of whom the government has in their sights.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Immigrants can start their own Constitutional Democratic Republic.

    That's right, they don't want to. Many want to come tot he USA and change ours to a Socialist state.

    No thanks.

  • lulz farmer||

    They have ~80-something aveage IQ at best. Let's be real; They just want your stuff. They're barely sentient. They don't have some grand ideology.

  • Azathoth!!||

    WTF does "our Creator" care about national borders? No, everyone is entitled to have their natural rights respected everywhere. The whole POINT of a government is to respect those rights.

    Not 'our'--'their' It's important. 'Their', unlike 'the' or 'our', suggests that this question, of the nature of the creator, is, even here, in the declaration, not one that is within the province of government.

    It can be a god, it can be nature, whatever one believes, the mere fact of having been created grants certain rights. For everyone. And everyone has the same rights.

    Free movement, however, is not one of them. Your creator, whoever it may be, has made this abundantly clear by the fact that every single thing that lives delineates and defends it's own territory. Some use their bodies to define their borders. Some scent mark to do so. Some leave visible markings their presence. Humans have evolved to the point where they can accept marks on paper as representations of their delineations.

    But, at the edges, as with all life, there is conflict.

    Your creator, whatever it might be, has fairly screamed in your face that property rights are EXTREMELY important. It is written into the building blocks of life itself.

  • lulz farmer||

    There are no such things as "natural rights." Rights are just fictions that sympatico peoples agree upon in a form of gentleman's agreements and by ratifying laws they can agree on. Now that the US is no longer a coherent nation, large segments of the population can no longer agree on what rights and laws should be.

    For example you now have black and brown criminals and their enablers in the US arguing that policing be raciss and demanding they be allowed to commit infinite crimes and not be locked up. You even have some cities like Austin or some other delusional leftoid-run hellhole which has essentially made it legal to mug and rob people as long as the value lost was less than $500, because after all it's blacks and browns who are disproportionately affected by such laws and therefore it's highly racist to actually enforce them.

  • Cy||

    It's a fair point to compare idealistic libertarianism to realistic libertarianism. While the US being a gated community of libertarianism is more realistic than the entire world, both are very much in a fantasy land in today's federal and world politics.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The usurpers of the Constitution have had about 150 years of incrementalism to wreck the USA.

    It will take some time to scale back our Nanny-State.

  • Cy||

    "It will take some time to scale back our Nanny-State."

    I think you meant blood. Lots of blood.

  • sarcasmic||

    And what replaces it will be far worse. Those who want liberty are far outnumbered by those who want a socialist state. What replaces our current system will be one based upon equality and fairness, not liberty and justice.

  • Cy||

    The issue with people who want liberty, they have to sacrifice a lot of their personal principles to achieve the freedom they desire. They need a lot of sin eaters. It's a catch 22 the other side doesn't seem to be inconvenienced by.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    I don't expect us to scale it back significantly, frankly. The intellectual underpinnings are missing at this point, as a result of the left controlling the educational system for so long.

    All I hope for is to keep the idea alive, so that it can be implemented again some day, someplace else. Maybe in some space colonies.

  • lulz farmer||

    "Equality and fairness" to the promoters of such is that white men have their balls clipped and be an enslaved tax-cattle class of people. The words themselves are Orwellian.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Cy, you're probably right but I hope we can fix it before it comes to that.

    I have dozens of guns and so much ammo it would put a California city's police department to shame, just in case.

  • CE||

    I think an American should have the right to sell or rent his home to anyone from anywhere, and to hire anyone he wants from anywhere. It's funny how individualists become communitarians when you draw a line on a map.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    You do have the right to rent and hire whomever you want from anywhere.

    Non-Americans don't have a right to enter the USA without permission from our duly elected government though.

    One of those individual powers Americans give up to be part of the USA.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The Founders wrote that and then allowed slavery to be legal.

    Its an idealistic statement by the Founders that our rights do not come from government but from the Creator. It does not mean that the USA cannot determine who can enter the USA.

    In fact an argument could be made that the Founders only wanted like-minded Classic Liberals to participate in the new Democracy.

  • sarcasmic||

    And while slavery was legal you would have celebrated it because the law is the law is the law, and anyone who questions it is an anarchist.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I have never said that I am for slavery and I am not.

    I would have been an abolitionist like some my relatives were.

    You are an admitted mini-anarchist=anarchist.

  • sarcasmic||

    No. You would have been an agent who rounded up escaped slaves. You said it yourself that the laws of government must all be obeyed without question. Obey or you are an anarchist. One can try to change the law, but while it exists it must be obeyed.

    So there is no way you would have been an abolitionist. That would mean disobedience which is anarchy. You would have obeyed and tatted out anyone who did not worship your god government.

  • sarcasmic||

    *ratted*

    Stupid autocorrect

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Oh sarcasmic. I guess you don't even know what abolitionist means.

    It means that I would literally never be the person rounding slaves up. Slavery is unconstitutional anywho, so your little hypothetical is about as ridiculous as all your other anarchy nonsense.

  • sarcasmic||

    You are an admitted authoritarian.

  • sarcasmic||

    You support anything that is law, because you support rule of law. So all laws are sacred.

    You would have supported apartheid because it was law. You would have supported the holocaust because it was law. You would have supported slavery because it was law.

    Anyone who didn't like those things was an anarchist.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I support the rule of law.

    That does not mean that I would not also support someone not complying with the law and protesting their subsequent arrest and prosecution.

    Jury nullification is perfectly constitutional. Its a check to government prosecutions and judge misconduct.

    You really cannot understand the difference between constitutional rule of law and rule of man can you? The laws have to be constitutional. Slavery is not constitutional. loading up jews and killing them is not constitutional. The war on drugs is not constitutional.

  • lulz farmer||

    You don't even know what apartheid actually was. Otherwise known as "separate development" and the blacks--who weren't even native the region, mind--were given lots of tribal territory with which they did... well, nothing really. And all of the farms they've seized since then have been laid fallow, for the most part.

    There's this idea that people like you have that access to us, to the resources we create, and to even our bodies in a sexual manner is some kind of human right. It's not.

  • CE||

    Slavery was already legal. Some in the founding generation wanted to ban it, immediately or eventually, but they couldn't hold a coalition of 13+ states together if they forced the issue at that time.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The Founders were creating a new nation. They had to decide whether it would be legal or not in the new United States of America.

    I agree that there would probably not have been a USA if not for the slavery compromise to push the issue to 1808.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Almost--but not quite.

    a lot of people advocating for what I call "gated community libertarianism" - they want maximal liberty for everyone living in the gated community, but to erect large gates and fences that are only permeable to other people who share their desire for maximal liberty

    FTFY

    That is the crux of it. While we may believe that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness not everyone shares that view. Some actively abhor it.

    Worse that that are those who claim to value it, but re-define the entirety so that it means it's opposite while using the same words.

    But the absolute worst is that these people will not leave us in peace--because they know that, as long as we exist, we serve as proof that they lie. So they endlessly try to get in and use our love for liberty to destroy us.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    So only those who share your ideology are entitled to liberty. Got it.

  • Azathoth!!||

    No. Everyone HAS liberty.

    There is no 'entitlement'. You are born with the full complement.

    You cannot give it to anyone.

    But, you can take it from people. You can force people to do things. As you, a leftist, know full well.

    And yes, only those who share my ideology truly grasp liberty.

    My ideology is exceedingly simple-- Do whatever you want, so long as you force no one to do anything. If you force someone to do something, you are signaling that all others may use force on you.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    I have a conservative friend who was anti-gay marriage. His argument was that the government shouldn't be involved therefore shouldn't move to allow it. I made roughly the same argument. The default state is freedom, you can do whatever and that not allowing it was a government action to prevent them from their freedom. The light when on and he supported it ever since.

  • lulz farmer||

    What if allowing gays to just do whatever they want imposes costs on the wider society like the rapid spread of diseases (which are becoming med-resistant--though that's a bit of a tangent) and the enormously outsized rate of pedophilia that they engage in. Is my liberty served more by just allowing this or by submerging them in a bog?

  • markm23||

    1) Cite an actual study that shows that gays engage in pedophilia any more often than others.

    2) Is there any freedom that could not be traded away with this sort of argument?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    President Trump's immigration crackdown? The Declaration of Independence complained that King George III "has endeavoured (sic) to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither."

    Nice open borders message slipped in. Not YOU too Ira Stoll!

    The Founders meant the British Home Island denying the colonists the right to pick their representatives and then having the crown prevent more rebellious migrants flooding the 13 colonies. In other words, the Crown was against allowing more people to fight on the side of the colonists.

    The media. A bunch of liars.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I barfed and then I realized that Ira wrote a book titled JFK, Conservative and it all makes sense on how skewed this article was.

  • CE||

    JFK was a conservative compared to the Dems these days. He ran on a platform including a large tax cut.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Seems pretty lefty to me but not as bad as actual socialists.
    JFK on the issues

    JFK 1960 campaign brochure

  • markm23||

    JFK objected to those that were overtly Communist and Fascist, but wanted a society run on the same collectivist principles without going quite that far or being so open about it.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    You know how "classical liberals" had to start calling themselves "libertarians", to distinguish themselves from the leftists who'd managed to take over the name?

    I think we're approaching the point where we're going to have to come up with another name, and let the leftists have "libertarian", too. They've just about finished poisoning the brand, anyway.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I want to prevent that from happening again, if I can help it.

  • CE||

    I suspect the poison has been self inflicted.

  • Rhywun||

    President Trump's encouraging Justice Anthony Kennedy to resign so Trump could reshape the Supreme Court?

    That's an... interesting... take on what happened. Why not go full HuffPo and claim Trump is "packing" the Court?

  • Cy||

    But muh RUSSIA!

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The lefty media is trying to make the argument that the SCOTUS should have a bunch of justices because "A Supreme Court of 59 justices would cut down on politics, mystique and the Ivy League, and be more like the legislature it's now called on to be." -USA Today

    The SCOTUS was designed to avoid politics which is why there is a lifetime appointment so justice dont have to campaign for an election.

    The lefties are butthurt that Trump will reshape the SCOTUS for the next 30 years. He will have replaced Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, RBG, and Breyer by the time his 8 years as president are up.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Actually, that was Glenn Reynold's proposal, and I wouldn't call him a leftist.

    And I think it might have been a modest proposal, too.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    A case against 59 justices would include court en banc decisions.

    Government should be smaller not bigger.

    If the SCOTUS were mostly originalist and would just defer to the limitations of the Constitution on everything, there would be less failures on their part. Any failures could just be fixed with Constitutional amendments or impeaching justices.

    Congress really needs to step up the power of impeachment. A federal district judge that issues a national injunction is a moron and does not understand basic jurisdiction. They need to be impeached.

    I see Glenn Reynold's is famous for saying "I'd like to live in a world in which happily married gay people have closets full of assault weapons to protect their pot."

    I meant the lefty media taking that 59 justices thing and running with it not necessarily that he was a lefty. The media is worried that their idol FDR's threat to pack the SCOTUS will be implemented by Trump. Not by Congressional action but because RBG and Breyer will not make it thru 8 years of Trump.

  • CE||

    TDS strikes again. THough I appreciate it when pundits point out the anti-liberty actions of Republicans as well as Democrats, a much stronger anti-Declaration of Independence case could have been made against Obama or Bush than against Trump.

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