In a recent article, I wrote about Thomas Paine and his defence of the French Revolution of 1789, Rights of Man, which was published two years later, in 1791:
Fifteen years earlier, on July 4th 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence had also been a major step on the road to freedom.
Back towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Americans were more than a little dissatisfied with the treatment they received at the hands of the British, and rightly so:
The document, originally composed by Thomas Jefferson, explains why people, have the right to rebel against their government. I have tried to make the language a little easier:
“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any Government becomes destructive, 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 such as to them shall seem most likely for their Safety and Happiness.”
Prudence will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown 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 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.”
Fine words, and you can hear Thomas Paine clapping in the background.
King George III, of course, around this time, was beginning to show the very first signs of his madness.
Most typical was his talking at great length, with enormously long sentences. Four hundred words per sentence. He repeated himself. Talked so much that he frothed at the mouth. Page boys would have to hold him down on the floor for his own safety. He spoke to dead relatives and thought he was in heaven. He talked with the angels. We don’t know what was wrong with him. Bipolar disorder, perhaps. Porphyria, maybe. It may have been his doctors who gave him “ James’s Powders” until his arsenic levels were 300 times the level of being merely toxic. After all, he did get better when his doctors stopped treating him.
Wearing a big hat, though, is no recipe for stable government, and you can understand why the Americans left the Empire. Their declaration contained one of the greatest, if not the greatest, sentences ever written by Man:
“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.”
Even when the Declaration was being signed though, the inevitable question of slavery raised its ugly head. Thomas Day wrote:
“If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”
Thomas Jefferson owned two hundred slaves and freed only five. George Washington had 317 and of the other ten presidents who had slaves, the totals were James Madison (100), James Monroe (75), Andrew Jackson (200), Martin van Buren (1), William Henry Harrison (11), John Tyler (70), James K Polk (25), Zachary Taylor (150), Andrew Johnson (8) and Ulysses S.Grant (5).
Clearly, a difficult and awkward problem, and one to be returned to in the near future.