August 12, 2008

Looking for a decent respect...

We're pleased to provide another interesting perspective offered by Spearfish writer Lorraine Collins...

A few years ago about this time I happened to tune in to the end of a patriotic telecast celebrating our Independence Day and I heard a fellow reciting the Declaration of Independence. I hadn’t read the Declaration for a few years, so I listened with interest. I was particularly struck by a phrase in the first sentence. That phrase is “a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind.”

This is what the declarers of independence said they had, and it’s why they felt compelled to explain their grievances and tell the world why they were taking this action, rather than just starting to shoot at Redcoats. When you have a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, you must feel that what you are doing is right and honorable and just, that your actions are reasonable and measured, and that history will agree.

The signers of the Declaration had several complaints about King George, in all I think about 27, and they listed them. Some dealt with the fact that the King did not respect the legislature, did not consult, did not enable legislatures in the colonies to meet and pass laws. One complained that the King was preventing the immigration and naturalization of people because he didn’t want the colonies to become too populated. It’s kind of hard to believe today, eh?

Some of the most interesting complaints to me, today, involve the King’s refusal to establish an independent judiciary. “He had made Judges dependent on his will alone for the Tenure of their Offices.” So now I can understand why appointments to the federal bench have to be confirmed by the Senate, and why our Constitution is adamant about the separation of powers. Anybody who thinks judges should do whatever the president wants, or should not tell Congress when it has passed an unconstitutional law should just read the slender document that is our Declaration of Independence.

Given the continuing controversy about our current detaining of prisoners in Guantanamo for many years without trial I was struck by the Declaration’s complaint that King George deprived people of the benefits of trial by jury and that he transported people “beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences.” That’s an interesting thing about reading our historic documents. Quite often they sound like today’s headlines.

Many of us can quote the famous lines of the Declaration about all men being created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We are proud of those lines, and we believe in them even though we know some signers of the Declaration were slave-holders, and that in any case nobody thought women had those rights. And today we still can’t agree on just what “the pursuit of happiness” should include. Gay marriage?

Those brave fellows who signed the Declaration, pledging their lives, fortunes and sacred honor, also said they did not hate the British people but held them “enemies in war, in peace, friends.” In my lifetime our country has had many enemies who are now our friends. So I sometimes wonder about the hysterical pronouncements of some pundits and politicians who act as though anyone with whom we disagree today will be our enemy forever, the embodiment of evil.

There are many nations today in which people are slaughtered, tortured, driven from their homes, deprived of life and liberty. The national leaders who do this obviously do not worry about the opinion of mankind. Our Declaration holds us to a higher standard. I hope we can always meet it.


Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be contacted at

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