Opinions diverge at this point as to what precisely that means.
To the Founding Fathers and the other landed, white men they represented, it meant becoming a new aristocracy akin to the old one in England, where moneyed gentry protected by royalty lorded over the common folk.
When freedom was won, the new American aristocrats consolidated power. Women, minorities, the poor and others not part of the new “aristocratic” class were deliberately excluded.
“All men are created equal” meant just that: white men of wealth were equal. They modeled Congress on the Parliament in Britain, with the aristocracy in the upper chamber, and even considered at one point crowning George Washington king.
In the century and a quarter that followed, America’s faux aristocrats pretty much had free rein to do as they pleased and the results weren’t pretty.
This is where the self-government part comes in. We the people came to understand the guiding principles of our Declaration and Constitution, intentionally or not, applied to everyone, not just the wannabe aristocrats.
America is far different today than it was in 1787. Most notably, every American enjoys the same rights but we must vigilantly safeguard them. The self-interest of modern day aristocrats is almost always at odds with the rights of everyone else.
The old robber baron aristocrats believed they had the right to clear cut entire forests, dump their factory and mill waste into rivers, and let the smoke from their furnaces blacken the skies. How this harmed others didn’t matter.
It became necessary for we the people, exercising self-government, to correct this inequity with new laws and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce them. Not surprisingly, modern aristocrats want the EPA abolished.
Similarly, other aristocrats thought they had the right to put small children paid pennies to work in mines and factories for excruciatingly long hours. It never occurred to these self-interested white men that what they were doing was immoral.
The parents of those children likewise endured endless hours of toil in unsafe conditions at whatever pay the aristocrat decided he wanted to give them. Starvation was the alternative. This was exactly the way things were in England, after all.
We the people recognized the inequality and made laws curtailing these exploitative practices putting in place the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to enforce them. OSHA is nonetheless reviled by modern aristocrats.A conservative MDJ writer suggested the other day that the EPA, OSHA and other federal agencies are ruled by despots ignoring the “letter and spirit of the Declaration and the Constitution” as if these agencies weren’t lawfully founded by the people to protect the rights of everyone; as if these agencies are not accountable to the people through Congress.
Change is inevitable. Change is constant. But I’m always amazed by educated people who fail to evolve their thinking and accept that change is a permanent part of our existence. The good old days, conservative types maintain, were the best days despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
These same conservatives consider anything new and different as evil and misguided. Look no further than their pathological hatred of the first African-American president as proof positive.
We the people have much to be grateful for. And what makes America great, what makes the American people great, thankfully, is the majority’s willingness to evolve despite the conservative minority always screaming “stop!”
Happy Fourth of July.