Who can define independence?

March 30, 2007

Topics: Personal.

All right, if you’re expecting to read about web development, prepare to be disappointed (or bored.) I don’t claim to always stay on topic, and right now I’m intending to split off a bit…so here goes.

I was just reading an interesting little article at Humanities Talks: “20 Greatest Historical Myths,” and I have a subtle quibble with one point: (actually, I could quibble with several, but this is the only one I’m going to discuss.)

The article states:

6. America became independent on July 4, 1776

Hold the fireworks! As most American school children (and many non-American ones) are aware, America’s founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. However, the war raged for another seven years before independence from England was finally granted on September 3, 1783. On that day, Britain’s George III and US leaders signed the Definitive Treaty of Peace.

Here’s my question: what’s the signifier of independence? In my view, the concept of political independence must come from the people declaring independence: if they perceive themselves (or declare themselves) to be independent, then they ARE independent. If one resists the government, then one is not ruled by the government. If one is sentenced and shot by a government which one does not acknowledge, then, although the government may perceive you as a criminal, you may perceive yourself having been killed as a prisoner of war.

I would suggest that the Declaration of Independence literally gave the colonies their independence. At that point, it was England’s responsibility to either re-conquer the colonies and re-assert their dominance, or to eventually concede the independence of the colonies, which they did.

The Treaty of Peace asserted that the war was over and that “His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.”

The Treaty contains an official relinquishment of claims: not a grant of independence. The two are significantly different: the crown COULD NOT grant independence, since the American Colonies had already taken it for themselves. It could only relinquish future claims on the territory and officially acknowledge the newly establish “United States.”

Essentially, independence is a function of self: if a body claims itself to be free and independent, then that condition is self-defining. Alternately, if a foreign body grants independence to an group or individual who does not acknowledge that independence, that group or individual is still not free.

All right. Just had to think out loud. Thanks for reading, if you made it this far!

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1 Comment to “Who can define independence?”

  1. We, the people of the united Kingdom, her Colonies, States and other stuff, wish to object to an agreement made by a King who is long dead and never asked us what we thought in the first place.

    We are fed up with having to send covert diving parties over to Boston every time we’re running a bit short of tea and we’ll never agree to Independence until you hand it all back. 😉