Saturday, July 5, 2014

July 4th, 2014: “transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences”

Conditions aboard the HMS Jersey

American's Independence Day is an important occasion to consider how the very behaviors that provoked the separation of the American colonies from England are echoed in current U.S. behavior toward others.

Consider, for instance, this 2010 Independence Day essay by Amy Davidson, which points out that England had a sort of "parallel universe" set up to the north of the colonies, where the usual rules didn't apply.  The colonists referred to the Quebec Act as one of the "Intolerable Acts." Davidson says that the objections of the colonists

also have to do with a fundamental concern: liberty is not something one can simply sneak around. It wasn’t fair that colonists had their rights as Englishmen denied while living under British rule, even if they weren’t technically in England. And they didn’t like the idea of the King’s government setting up what appeared to them as a sort of extraterritorial legal limbo next door. Listening to their words—“at once an example and fit instrument” for the subversion of rights—it is very easy to think of Guantánamo. 

See "The Declaration and Guantánamo" by Amy Davidson, July 2, 2010, in The New Yorker.

Similarly, the King of England was in the habit of detaining and rendering abroad those he took issue with. Hence the language in the Declaration of Independence about “transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences." As pointed out at the website,

This policy was so obnoxious to the Americans that the first Continental Congress on October 21, 1774, adopted a resolution declaring "That the seizing, or attempting to seize, any person in America, in order to transport such person beyond the sea, for trial of offenses, committed within the body of a county in America, being against law, will justify, and ought to meet with resistance and reprisal."

(See the discussion of A Project of the Claremont Institute)

So: the 4th of July -- an important day for thinking about our roots and the standards to which we hold ourselves.

Happy 238th anniversary of our "liberty."