Fourth of July & the Beginnings of the United States
Today is the Fourth of July, a day marked with celebrations featuring fireworks, barbecues and beer. The day commemorates the signing of a document that informed Britain that the American colonies no longer recognized the rule of the Crown and were declaring their sovereignty. What lead the Founding Fathers to declare independence needs to be understood by modern Americans.
The American Revolution which forged our nation was substantially spurred along in reaction to the egregious power assumed by the King in the form of ‘General Writs of Assistance.’ Today we would use terminology such as ‘unwarranted search,’ ‘mass surveillance’ and ‘asset forfeiture’ to describe what the colonists experienced under these “much hated Writs.” Anywhere could be searched, these general warrants did not expire until six months after the death of the King, information leading to these invasive searches often times came from hearsay or confidential informants, and goods could be seized without compensation if the searcher suspected they were related to illegal activity.
These searches and seizures were so despised that when founding the first independent governments in 1776 the revolutionaries bound their own governments to stringent requirements that demanded a “particular” (specific) description of what was to be searched. John Adams is often cited as declaring that these abuses of power were the spark that ignited the Revolution. Undeniable abuses of state authority such as these Writs lead directly to not only the Fourth Amendment (which are readers are familiar with) but also the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments ensuring the government can not take life, liberty or property without due process.
Today the technology involved has raised the stakes and the parallels are striking yet our rebellious history is somehow forgotten. Corollaries between the standing armies of centuries ago and the militarized forces of modern American police provide another red flag. Deep analyses of these subjects reveal that more than just privacy hangs in the balance; the most deeply rooted tenets of our society, the rule of law, and even democracy itself are jeopardized.
So, when celebrating today and watching the bombs bursting in air, remember why we call ourselves great. It isn’t because we have a mighty military, it isn’t because of some obscure centuries old document, and it isn’t because the Revolution permanently prevented our own government from taking on the characteristics the American Revolutionaries sought to change. It’s because of the rebellious spirit that said “no” to things like indefinite detention, warrantless surveillance, asset forfeiture, and instead opted for the rule of law, representative democracy, checks and balances, and due process.
Happy Fourth of July.