- Freedom from unjust or undue governmental control.
- A right or immunity to engage in certain actions without control or interference: the liberties protected by the Bill of Rights.
In today’s United States, to most Americans, liberty is a synonym for freedom. We mouth the words together – freedom and liberty – and without much thought mean the same thing by them. But the definition above infers that liberty is a freedom. It also infers liberty, a specific freedom, to be a right.
The Committee of Five was formed by the Second Continental Congress to essentially come up with a statement that would announce to the world the freedom that the new United States was declaring for itself. These five men, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert Livingston of New York, and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania formed the committee. Almost immediately, four of the five agreed to allow the 33 year old Jefferson the freedom to pen the first draft, or as Jefferson himself told it in 1823,
…unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught [sic]. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections. . . I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress.
Our founders in that Second Continental Congress then agreed on, affixed their signatures thereto, and had published, the most important words in our nation’s history:
So elegantly simple. Life, the right to draw breath; Liberty, freedom from unjust government; and the pursuit of Happiness, the right to seek ones own way, to be responsible for ones own actions aimed toward being a contributing member of society, and to gain personal satisfaction in so doing. So fundamental were these words to the rights of man, that they were capitalized in the Declaration.
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.
So important was the word Liberty to the founders that a year before the Declaration was written, Patrick Henry addressed the Virginia House of Burgesses with the immortal words:
I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death.
…and thus inspired a revolution. It was not something that came upon them suddenly, but was the culmination of several decades of growing abuses by the British King, George III. These colonists were not permitted to make their own way, to establish their own economy, which they felt could be more lucrative than what the Crown forced on them with its repressive tax laws. Indeed, the British government felt the colonies had been in revolt for several years, and the conflict with the American Minutemen Militia at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775 was just the first open and armed instance of defiance to British rule. By June of that year the First Continental Congress authorized an army, and by July the Crown declared the colonies to be in rebellion. In March of 1776 the Second Continental Congress authorized the fitting out of privateers to take on the enemies of the colonies, and the following month opened American ports to trade with other countries; by May they had authorized the formation of local governments, thus assuming civil control from the British authority.
All this time the Colonial geniuses were agitating to separate. Thomas Paine wrote political essays published in pamphlets called Common Sense, and The American Crisis. John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, and the aforementioned Roger Sherman and others, were among perhaps the greatest collection of socio-political thinkers in one place, at one time, and with one common goal in mind, and became a force that no army could overcome. Writing in Common Sense, Paine said,
Everything that is right or natural pleads for separation. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, ’tis time to part.
These brave men risked all in daring to sign their names to a document that not only declared the British Government, perhaps the largest empire the world had ever seen to that time, to no longer be in control of those colonies, but also set forth the principles that would guide the new nation in its governance of the people. As the Liberty Bell was rung in Philadelphia, the prophetic Biblical inscription on it read,
Proclaim Liberty throughout the land!
Once established, one of the first areas of contention was the defining and drawing the scope of those rights of man. In writing a draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, George Mason wrote,
…a frequent recurrency to fundamental principles is absolutely necessary to preserve the blessing of liberty.
But the author of the Declaration of Independence himself, Thomas Jefferson put it this way,
Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
A careful reading of the Declaration of Independence will reveal that the rights of man, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, precede the formation of government, and,
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
What follows then is a cautionary note about what happens when governments lose sight of the responsibility to the individual rights of man:
The government of Pennsylvania, and the governments in Adams County have lost their way, and lost the essence of Rightful Liberty. When local governments make laws that allow those governments to dictate their whims to the people, they have abrogated their responsibility to secure these rights, and the consent of the governed must be withdrawn.
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Passing laws that force communities to accept development and business without allowing a popular voice to have a say in the matter is tyranny. Conducting public meetings without allowing the public to be heard is the height of government arrogance, and insultingly says that the people’s voice is not competent to be heard. Making plans for the future of the people’s homes without allowing them a say in that future is a usurpation of basic Rightful Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
These affronts are present in our state laws as exemplified by Act 71 of 2004, the Pennsylvania State Gaming Law, and in the actions taken by the Adams County Commissioners, the Adams County Economic Development Corporation, and several township governments, in particular, that of Straban Township. They have combined to effect the rape of the land in Adams County, in a mistaken notion that they govern the land and not the people who live on it. No public opinion was legitimately sought, allowed, or taken into consideration when the casino was proposed, or when Straban Township altered its zoning plan, nor was any public input permitted, sought, or accepted when the Economic Development Corporation sought to force a WalMart Superstore, and a WalMart Distribution Center on the people of this community. In all of these actions, including the runaway development of Adams County, the Adams County Commissioners are complicit.
James Madison put it very succinctly when he wrote,
I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.
Finally, Jefferson wrote in 1786,
No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him…the idea is quite unfounded that on entering into society we give up any natural rights.
The time has come for government to restore the Rightful Liberty of which Jefferson wrote. It is time for the people to make their governments do this.
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