On July 2, 1776 the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from the English Crown. A committee of five men was selected to put an ordinance of secession into written form, and on July 4 of that year, the Congress voted to approve what would be known as the Declaration of Independence. Interestingly, and largely unknown, as Kevin Gutzman notes is the fact that Virginia had already declared its independence nearly two months earlier, on May 15, 1776.
Contrary to popular modern opinion the Declaration was not a “revolutionary” document. The rights of the colonials, as well as the notion that the Creator was the origin of these rights, were already codified into English law- the English Crown and Parliament were no longer observing these rights and were in fact using the force of government to curtail them. Thus it was they, not the Colonials, who were acting in a “revolutionary” capacity. The Crown was failing to abide by their own law, while the Colonials were fighting to uphold it for themselves as well as their posterity. George Mason observed this when he said “We claim nothing but the liberty and privileges of Englishmen in the same degree, as if we had continued among our brethren in Great Britain.”
After establishing in the Declaration’s preamble the basis for the existence of government, and then enumerating the manner in which the Crown had violated these tenants, the resting place of the Declaration is found in its final paragraph. It states:
We therefore, the representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the Authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.
Notice as well, that it goes on to equate these “Free and Independent States” with the “State” of “Great Britain” and declares that-
as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.
A “colony” is subject to the authority of a parent government. In this case that parent government was the English Crown. The 13 American Colonies wished to be “absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown” and established that “all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain ought to be totally dissolved.” They were no longer “colonies”, but “States.”
Stated another way, they were now in fact “Independent Nations” free to form their own governments, independent not only of England, but of each other as they were “unified” solely for the purpose of defending themselves against invasion by the British.
Reflecting on this, the notion that “The United States”, or what some now call “this great nation”, was born on July 4, 1776 is a historical farce. While declaring independence ultimately led to the creation of a “union” under, first the Articles of Confederation, and later the Constitution, the Declaration itself created nothing- it merely established a separation of the colonies from England, and each of these would go on to form their own “nations”. Virginia did so even as the Declaration of Independence was being penned in Philadelphia, as it was at that time in the process of enacting its own Constitution. Future States would enter the union on the same footing as the original 13. (Sorry Texas, you were therefore not the first sovereign “Republic” to enter the union. There were 27 others before you).
Neither the Articles of Confederation, nor the US Constitution of 1787 changed the relationship between the States in this regard. As James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, James Wilson, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and numerous other proponents of the Constitution would assure, the Constitution ratified in 1788 would delegate only specific enumerated powers, dealing primarily with defense, foreign commerce and regulating trade among the several States. All other powers, as was insisted on by the States, were to be “reserved to the States respectively”. This was acknowledged in what would become the 10th Amendment of the Constitution. The 13 States created themselves, and went forward to become a plural “union” not a singular “nation” under the constitution.
Prior to the defeat of the South by Lincoln’s invading armies the people of the united States would refer to the union in the plural, as in “The united States were” or “The united States are”, rather than “The United States is” or “The United States was”. This changed only after Lincoln’s bloody crusade to undo the constitution of our Founding generation.
With the South’s defeat in 1865 the constitution was thus effectively annulled. The right as recognized in the Declaration of Independence to “alter”, “abolish” or “throw off” a government that was no longer desired was crushed under heel and the precedent was set establishing that the government in DC is now, by virtue of the mere notion that “might makes right”, “Supreme” in all things. It was no longer relegated to what Alexander Hamilton, in referring to the 17 specific powers delegated under Article I, called a specific “sphere” of authority. Today, the States refrain from challenging Federal authority which necessarily means that they have lapsed from their prior existence as “Free and Independent States” united for mutual protection, to being, once again, “provinces” subject to an all-powerful parent government- the very thing that July 4th is remembered for dissolving. This “parent” government resides in Washington, DC, rather than London.
On July 4 of every year Americans gather to shoot fireworks, eat barbecue, listen to “patriotic” speeches and celebrate the birth of their country unaware that the union of our Founders was laid to rest at Appomattox Court House in 1865. The Founder’s union was altered through an act of violence, bloodshed and subjugation, and its stated purpose for existences in 1788, when the constitution was ratified, was dealt a death blow. In all reality, we are celebrating a country that no longer exists.