Typically, Ethics Alarms has highlighted July 3 with reflections on the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, for which the 3rd was the dramatic last and decisive day. I know it must be hard to believe, but I do get tired of writing the same things over and over again, an occupational hazard of being an ethicist during a mass ethics breakdown in our democracy and among the increasingly corrupt people we have put in power to protect it. I still can’t ignore Pickett’s futile charge and Custer’s charge as well, so I direct you to last year’s post on both events and their ethics implications.
However, this year I am introducing the July 3 warm-up with another crucial anniversary, one that may have had even more impact on the history of the United States, its prospects and its values than Gettysburg. July 2, 1776 is when the Continental Congress finally agreed to take the leap and forge a new nation (John Adams thought the 2nd would be the day we celebrated) and July 4, 1776 was the date the document was signed. But in-between those more noted dates the Continental Congress began debating and editing Jefferson’s draft Declaration, eventually making 86 edits that cut the length by about a fourth.
Because the Declaration of Independence is the mission statement of America, framing and sometimes compelling what followed, especially the Constitution, the editing decisions of July 3, 1776 affected our laws and culture in many ways that are unimaginable after more than 200 years. You can read the original here. It is this deleted paragraph, however, that most inspires reflections on what might have been (and what might not):
“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”
Now on to the present day’s ethics concerns...