'Dangers of Invasion from without and Convulsions within'

Out of the Woods

Posted: Sunday, July 08, 2001

To get into the spirit and celebrate our Independence Day holiday, I read the Declaration of Independence. I was familiar with the basic idea and can quote the popular phrases, but had never read the whole thing. Most people took care of this chore much earlier in life, but after reading it this week, I am grateful I waited. It would have given me nightmares as a youngster.

The words and phrasing of the document take a little getting used to. It's been 225 years and our language has changed quite a bit. Nevertheless, a group of lawyers, judges and merchants (the farmers probably slept through this part) came up with an opening sentence over 60 words long. It's windy, but a reasonable crack at what today we would call a vision statement.

The couldn't-put-it-down part comes in the list of complaints against the British Crown, "the Facts submitted to a candid World." My favorite is, "He has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their Public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures." Tell me that Juneau didn't come to mind along with a few legislators who feel that meeting here fatigues them into Compliance. The list goes on with repeatedly "dissolved Representative Houses" and "the refusal of others to be elected." This, of course, leaves the State "exposed to all the Dangers of Invasion from without, and Convulsions within." I, personally, have only feared those kind of dangers when visiting small, sleazy diners. But now that I've considered it on a national level, I feel nationally queasy.

One thing I couldn't help considering in reading our country's Declaration of Independence, aside from the treason thing, was the logistics. Getting notices out to delegates could take weeks, hearing back a few more weeks. Setting committee schedules and voting dates would require dispatching messengers and deciphering handwritten notes. How often do you suppose someone rode for days to a meeting to find it had been rescheduled or held the previous week? How often were messages garbled, smeared, misread or mislaid? Were vital papers ever lost on the road or eaten by the horse?

I'd never really thought about just who you would file a heavy message like this with, but in the end, it's addressed to "the Supreme Judge of the World." That should do it. The document is filled with strong statements that illustrate a group of colonists' very hard feeling toward the Crown and a real bad attitude toward Native Americans, but it was interesting to read and think about in today's political context. Just as we don't agree in our politics very often today, I wonder how many people were really behind the revolution 225 years ago. And how many were honestly unaware of or managed to avoid the whole thing.

Now that I'm into the language of our Founding Fathers, I feel the need to read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It's getting late and I need something to chase the scary "Swarms of Officers" sent hither "to harass our People, and to eat out their Substance" out of my head so I can sleep.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.

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