What did the Founders really mean 
in the Declaration of Independence?


By Dino Drudi, Alexandria
(File Photo)

To the editor:
On the Fourth of July, Americans like to celebrate our Independence Day, commemorating the public reading of our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. But if we read it, we must wonder whether its signatories believed what they wrote:

The first, most widely discussed example is: “…all men are created equal.” At the time, even Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey were slave states. And, as the Constitution’s infamous “three-fifths of all other persons” acknowledges, slaves were considered persons, who clearly our esteemed Founders did not regard as equal.

Second is a litany of complaints about King George III refusing to sign off on laws local legislatures proposed and then revoking their charters, much in the way Congress today prohibits the District from spending its local funds without approval and disallows D.C. from spending local tax dollars on abortions. A convenient shorthand — although these words are nowhere in the document — is “taxation without representation.”

Yet, a mere quarter-century after signing the Declaration of Independence, that is exactly what has been imposed upon the District, and maintained for more than two centuries. At times, the federal government has even dissolved and later reconstituted the capital city’s government while taxing its residents like those of the 50 states.

Third, and most risible were it not so racist, is their complaint against Great Britain’s collaboration with “the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” (What a fine sentiment from the only country in human history to use an atomic bomb!)

In fact, during the decades of following the founding, the U.S. military’s approach toward American Indians was, as in the Trail of Tears and other atrocities, little less.

If our esteemed Founders did not believe the high-flung flapdoodle they crammed into this public relations document, what, instead, motivated them to separate from Great Britain?

In our schools, children typically learn an uncritical view of the Declaration of Independence. They learn little, if anything, about the king’s proclamation line, which was drawn through the Appalachians: European colonists were to the east, American Indians to the west. After the British prevailed in the French and Indian War, wealthy colonists became speculators and prepared to snap up vast tracts of cheap land west of the Appalachians for later profit.

Alas, to assuage the American Indian tribes, the king issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which reserved that land for them, with hunting and fishing rights granted to specific tribes according to region. It also forbade colonists from encroaching or settling on those lands.

Moreover, it ordered the return of those who already moved west and indicted those who, through fraudulent practices, acquired western lands from the American Indians.

Great Britain, cognizant that the colonists would not respect the line without some enforcement mechanism, established royal outposts along the boundary. The colonists regarded the proclamation with animosity, feeling that the king had taken away from them much of the booty they had won in the French and Indian War.

In coded language, the Declaration of Independence hints at the proclamation line’s significance when it rails against the king’s interference in the colonists’ “new appropriations of lands” and sending “swarms of officers to harass our people,” which would include those sent to evict colonists who settled west of the Appalachians and staff the boundary outposts.