The United States of America is an unusual country, in a lot of ways. For one thing, as every school-child knows, our country did not “just happen.” We began our national life with the publication of a document, the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration lists our grievances with the British, and tells the world why we can no longer be subjects of King George or ruled by the Parliament in London anymore. But the Declaration does more than that. It also says that the new country holds to certain principles, which we all know, but which are worth reading again:
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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –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.
The point of government, any government, is to secure our rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
The government of Illinois has been doing a very poor job lately. In fact, by ruining the state’s economy with its terrible public policies, the government of Illinois has “become destructive of these ends.” Many people are leaving the state—and taking their talent, knowledge, and businesses with them—to pursue their happiness in friendlier places. Others are growing increasingly unhappy and becoming interested in seeing real change.
Unlike our Founders, however, we don’t have to wage a revolution to “alter or abolish” the current ruling class in Springfield and its inept and corrupt and destructive policies. Our fate is in our own hands. Our Illinois Constitution, just like the Declaration, guarantees that “[a]ll men are by nature free and independent and have certain inherent and inalienable rights among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We don’t have to fight for that again. The Founders were ruled under charters, which the British government could abolish at will. But we in Illinois have a Constitution, which can only be revised by a lawful process. The Founders did not have any say in the British government of their day. Our state Constitution guarantees that the government will be selected by democratic elections. And back-stopping all of that, the U.S. Constitution guarantees that each state shall have a “ republican form of government”—which means there will be democratic elections to choose the government.
In other words, the Founders of America, and the authors of our own state Constitution, gave us the tools to reform our state and fix its problems.
Samuel Adams, was one of the early American Revolutionaries. He organized the Boston Tea Party of 1773, and supported the war for independence against the British. But, once the country was free, and once we had our own Constitution, Samuel Adams also said we can no longer be revolutionaries:
[O]ur Constitutions provide a safe and easy method to redress any real grievances. No people can be more free than under a Constitution established by their voluntary compact, and exercised by men appointed by their own frequent suffrages. If any law shall prove oppressive in its operation, the future deliberations of a freely elective representative will afford a constitutional remedy.
It may seem that cleaning up Springfield will be anything but “free and easy.” But, compared to going to war against the most powerful country on Earth to get your freedom, as Sam Adams and the other Founders did, it is not nearly so hard. They gave us the tools; we have to use them. It is up to us to elect people who will enact better policies and turn the state around.
The possibility of peaceful change exists in America, and in Illinois, and it is up to us to make it happen.
Sometimes, in our gloomier moments, it may seem like this state can never be salvaged, and that too few people are paying attention, and the insiders in Springfield will always win. But, Thomas Jefferson put words into the Declaration that go to this very point: “mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
In a country like ours, most people prefer to take care of their own private affairs and be left in peace. It takes a lot to get people motivated enough to try to make political changes. First, as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration, there have to be “insufferable” evils, and “a long train of abuses and usurpations” before people will try to change their government. In other words, before ordinary citizens get motivated, things have to get really bad. And the way things are going in Illinois, that is exactly what is happening.
Second, change requires leadership by people who are committed to it, and who are motivated by the desire for liberty more than personal gain. The American Founders met this standard. If they could make a revolution in 1776, we can take the easier path of political reform in 2013.
There is a quote which has circulated among liberty-loving Americans, which is attributed to Samuel Adams: “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” Old Sam probably didn’t actually say this, but the point is still good. It takes an active and energetic minority, who need to motivate their fellow citizens, and show them a path to reform and change.
An inspiring example of a tireless and active patriot was Paul Revere. We remember his name because of his midnight ride, to warn the people that the British Army was on the march. But scholarly studies show he played a much bigger role than that one, dramatic mission. Paul Revere helped to create organizations that pushed for change, and he helped to bridge the gaps between different groups, which otherwise might have wasted their time working at cross purposes. Paul Revere helped mobilized the anti-British movement by forming a network of groups, which were all working in the same cause.
This explains why it was Paul Revere who was chosen to ride out into the countryside in the middle of the night to warn the minutemen that the redcoats were marching out of Boston. Paul Revere knew everyone in the movement, and they all knew him. He was a leader and a network-builder. Everyone knew he was in it for the cause of freedom, not for himself, and they trusted him.
Paul Revere is a good model for the modern patriot.
Illinois is ripe, indeed over-ripe, for reform. The system is broken and and politics as usual won’t fix it. We need activists like Adams, Jefferson and Revere.
We also need liberty focused candidates to run for state legislative offices. Could you be one of them?
It is up to us to bring peaceful and democratic change to our state and to our country.
We can do it. We have to, and we will.
Happy Independence Day.
God Bless America.