Happy Independence Day…er, Week!

american-flag-us-flag-united-states-301167Happy Independence Day, my fellow Americans! While I am a general history buff, I especially have an interest in the Enlightenment era, and of early United States history in particular. In view of this, I have devised a week of festivities surrounding the founding documents of the United States, beginning today with a post of the complete text of the Declaration of Independence.

It is a relatively short read, I think, and I encourage EVERY citizen of this country to read it. While I’m sure most of us were told in school how important this document is, I feel, as do these people, that to truly appreciate it and its modern relevance, as with any text you have to engage with it. Read it slowly, and keep a dictionary handy for when you run across a word you don’t understand.

It’s incredible when you consider that this small document, and the Republic it founded, left a lasting legacy on world-wide politics. The idea that a government rules by “consent of the governed” was expressed in an early form in Thomas Hobbes’ 1651 book Leviathan, which outlined a form of social contract theory. But the idea that governments, their laws, and in fact their very legitimacy are actually rooted in the consent of the people, as opposed to a single ruler or group of rulers who derive their legitimacy from an unquestionable divine right, was first expressed in the practical form we understand today in the Declaration of Independence.

It’s interesting to note that during this time in the 17th century there were other revolutions taking place around the Atlantic region, one of which actually preceded the American Revolution (the Corsican Revolution, which ended French rule there). The influence continued to be felt from these revolutions down through the decades, with similar uprisings taking place in 1820, 1830, and 1848.

While not all were successful in achieving their aims (particularly the 1848 revolutions), they all played a part in making governments around the world acknowledge the will of the people as the basis of their rule. Throughout history, absolute monarchies had been the most common form of government.

Today, there are 7.

 

If you’re interested, here are some questions, which I recommend copying to a separate document or printing out, to focus on as you read the text. Note that some of these questions use terms that have meanings specific to philosophy and law. More information about these terms can be found at the related hyperlinks:

  • Why does the opening paragraph invoke the idea of a God of Nature, and declare that both this “God” and the “Laws of Nature” entitle the people of the then-colonies “separate and equal station” among the “powers [I read this as “nations” -WFC] of the earth”?
    • What if there are no unchanging natural laws, and morals are relative to the society and time period in which they were created and followed? Does this undermine the legitimacy of the Declaration of Independence? Why or why not?
    • Is there an identifiable God of Nature? If one does not recognize the existence of any higher power, supernatural or otherwise, does this weaken the argument the Declaration makes for independence? Why or why not?
  • The writer of the Declaration was Thomas Jefferson, a statesman and lawyer from Virginia who would become the 3rd president of the United States. Are there specific passages that especially sound like an attorney arguing for or against something?
    • Do you think Jefferson was chosen to write the document because he was versed in legal matters?
  • What do you think the terms “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” meant to the colonists in the context of independence from Britain?
    • What do these things mean to us as Americans today?
    • Have they changed meaning, and if so, in what ways?
    • What do these terms mean to you, specifically?
  • One passage near the end of the Declaration addresses the conflict that would no doubt arise from declaring independence from Britain: “We have warned [” our Brittish (sic) brethren”] from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us…They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.” [Emphasis mine]
    • Why do you think that the colonists make it clear that they wish to remain friends with the British after naming so many accusations against them?
    • Does the concept of Natural Law have anything to do with this decision? Why or why not?

 

Sensitivity Note: Near the end of the list of accusations against the British, the Declaration uses offensive language (“…merciless Indian Savages…”) to refer to Native Americans who had apparently been involved in massacres of colonists on the frontier. Though doing little to soften its derogatory impact today, it should be noted that at the time of the Declaration’s writing, the term “savage” meant something more neutral than it does now, though influential statesman Benjamin Franklin in fact deplored the term because he felt that it was applied to Native Americans simply because they were “different” and not a part of what would have been considered polite society or “civilization” at the time by the average colonist.

While some would probably prefer not to have to engage with this particular part of the Declaration (“wrestle with” might be a better term), I am nevertheless an advocate of understanding and engaging with historical writings on their own terms, as the product of imperfect people with a view of the world informed by particular cultural norms and biases. Rather than an indictment against the ideals embodied by a particular text, I see it rather as an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made, often on the shoulders of a given document and the broad ideals it encourages, and the work we still have to do in recognizing and overcoming the biases inherent in one’s culture, and oneself.

640px-declaration_independence
John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence (1819)

And now, finally and without further ado, on this July 4th, may I present the Declaration of Independence in its entirety (well, minus the signatures 😉 ):

 

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

[Signatures removed for space]


 

Have a great 4th of July everyone!

K R Parkinson Monogram
– K R Parkinson
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Writing Prompt Wednesday: Medieval Time Travel

time-621043_640Hello, and welcome to this month’s final Writing Prompt Wednesday! Since this is our final Medieval Times-themed prompt, I thought we’d do something a bit different, with medieval-themed prompts related to the “fish-out-of-water” concept. You know what I’m talking about: stories where the main character just doesn’t fit in, and they have to make their way through a strange world that they don’t understand, and a world that, perhaps, doesn’t understand them.

By the way, I’m nowhere near qualified to speak on the science behind this, but it seems that it might actually be impossible to travel backwards through time, based on the fact that we’ve now observed that atomic nuclei don’t have to be symmetrical. That’s…at least kind of related to this week’s prompts. Promise.

 

Prompt 1

Write a story in which a famous scientist from history is transported to the present. Why would those responsible do this? What problems could this pose if they intended to send them back to their own time?

 

Prompt 2

Write a story in which an extra-terrestrial lands in medieval London. They can be hostile or friendly.

 

Prompt 3

Arthur C. Clarke once said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Leonardo da Vinci is considered one of the most visionary men of the Renaissance, having drafted plans for such things as helicopters, parachutes, and even a primitive tank. What would he think about the televisions, computers, telephones, and this thing we call the internet? Do you think he would understand them as technology or magic?

Bonus question: Is there a difference?

 


Until next time,

K R Parkinson Monogram
– K R Parkinson

Writing Prompt Wednesday: Still Alive!

Well, it finally happened. Yours truly got truly busy — and let a Writing Prompt Wednesday slip by without an update. Many apologies for the oversight. Have a few cookies for your trouble:

320px-chocolate_chip_cookies_-_kimberlykv

Now then, let’s get to the belated prompting, shall we? I think we’ll do a collection of story prompts this week. Of course, we’re keeping the Medieval Times theme.

 

Prompt 1

Write a story in which King Arthur and his Knights discover that the holy grail isn’t quite what they thought it would be.

 

Prompt 2

Two words: Steampunk Merlin.

 

Prompt 3

Complete the story:157px-john_william_waterhouse_-_the_crystal_ball

The three old witches sat opposite their King, eyes shut, mouths working to form the words of the spell. Palms facing outward, they pressed their wrists together to form a ‘V’ with their hands, focusing their energy toward the crystal ball placed in the center of the table. Occasionally, one of the old women would groan, straining to maintain her connection to the world of the unseen.

The King leaned forward to peer into the crystal ball. His heart raced with anticipation. If these old crones did what they claimed they could do, today he would…

 


And there you have it, folks. A day late, but as prompting as ever, if I do say so myself. Take care, and have a great week. See you next time!

K R Parkinson Monogram
– K R Parkinson

Photo credits:

Chocolate Chip Cookies by Kimberly Vardeman, used under CC BY 2.0 license.

The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse, work in public domain.

Writing Prompt Wednesday: Armor Documentary!

Greetings once again, readers. In keeping with the use of multimedia in last week’s prompt, this time I have a video about medieval heavy armor for you to check out. I’ve been doing some research on this topic lately, and this documentary was pretty helpful. It’s over 45 minutes long, but it’s interesting and informative, cheesiness notwithstanding.

Enjoy, and catch you next time!


K R Parkinson Monogram
– K R Parkinson

When writing, be deliberate

In WFC’s very first post, I said that there’s no way to know how a story will fit together until all the pieces are out of the box. Today I’d like to explore another aspect of this idea: if you’re having trouble pulling the pieces out of the box, try being deliberate about it instead of simply grabbing at anything that reaches your hands.

I understand that the technique of simply putting down on paper whatever comes out of your head can be an effective means for some writers to get started (a few of which I knew – or knew of – from various writing classes), but any time I try to just vomit everything out on the page in the hope of “finding my subject,” the result reeks of complete, blithering incoherence. Whether that says something or nothing at all about my general mental state I have no idea, but what I do know is that it is usually much more aggravating than inspirational. Instead, when writing, I try to be deliberate. To illustrate what I mean, let me give you a recent example.

Last week I used the story prompt from May 4th, about a couple of thieves who encounter an abandoned space station and decide to explore it, as the basis for a sci-fi short story. So, first of all, if you’ve ever wondered if I use my own prompts (I can almost hear you shouting “no!” at the screen right now, and to that I say: tough), the answer is yes. Secondly, I knew the general thrust of the plot when I started: they’d go in expecting to just loot the place, and discover that the station is harboring a Dark Secret™. However, all of the details, like who the thieves were, what their reasons were for being there, what they find, etc., were vague or nonexistent to start with.

However, I didn’t start randomly jamming the keys on my keyboard like an infinite chimp, hoping to produce Ray Bradbury at some point and call it an evening, which, now that I think about it, would be some sort of mutant-variety plagiarism, but I digress. Instead, I tried to envision how the station would look, what the characters would do first when they got there, and what would keep them there long enough to explore the rest of the station. I ended up with a few crime fiction tropes, such as the obligatory safecracking scene, but remixed to fit into the sci-fi context, which was a blast to write, and a fun exercise in trying to do something a little different (for me, anyway; I’m sure there’s a “safecracking in spaaaaace” plot out there. I just haven’t seen it yet).

And in fact, that’s all the story was supposed to be, an exercise to stretch my writing muscles. I’m currently in the process of editing it for submission. So far, what I’m seeing from my first draft is an internally coherent piece of work that has a lot of fun details to it, many of which were born from things I’ve read due to my interest in space and the physics of space travel. Although the ending is going to need some work, all of the things that are, more or less, complete came about because I stopped and thought about what I was writing and what kinds of details would work in the setting.

For some writers, the idea generation stage entails throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. For me, however, knowing the kind of wall I’m dealing with helps me to know ahead of time what ideas are likely to stick.


K R Parkinson Monogram
– K R Parkinson

Writing Prompt Wednesday: Sedlec Ossuary

Since I feel like doing something a bit (okay, very) different this week, I decided to provide a series of eye-popping photos to jump-start your creativity instead of the typical text-based writing prompt fare. In keeping with this month’s theme, the following photos are from Sedlec Ossuary, located in the lower levels of the medieval-era Chapel of All Saints in Czechia (also known as the Czech Republic).

All Saints Chapel
Chapel of All Saints, Exterior. By user “Zp,” via Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 3.0

The site had been used as a burial ground for hundreds of years before František Rint was commissioned by the prominent Schwarzenberg family in the 1700s to place the bones in the Ossuary in some semblance of order. His solution for organizing the thousands upon thousands of bones and skeletons that had been laid to rest in the lower levels of the chapel?

Arrange them artistically, of course! The result of Rint’s work can be seen in the photographs below, including the incredible chandelier and the Coat of Arms of the House of Schwarzenberg. I’ve always wanted to see this place for myself, because the use of something many people consider sinister or taboo to provide a peculiar beauty to a sacred space is very inspiring to me.

While some people find such displays morbid and disrespectful to the dead, I think there’s an air of reverence to it, bringing to mind the passage from the Book of Genesis, “…for dust you are, and to dust you shall return,” a stark reminder that our lifetime is as valuable as it is limited.

Sedlec_Ossuary_Entrance_scale
Ossuary Entrance, with cross made of bones. Tyler Nofziger, via Wikipedia. Used under Creative Commons license CC BY 3.0
Kostnice03_scale
Coat of Arms of the House of Schwartzenberg. Originally posted to Flickr by user “word_virus.” Acquired for this post via Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0
Sedlec-Ossuary_scale
Chandelier made of bones. By user “Chmouel,” via Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 3.0

’til next time, remember to Write a Full Circle every day.

K R Parkinson Monogram
– K R Parkinson

Writing Prompt Wednesday: Medieval Times #1

Greetings again, Readers! This month we’ll be taking a little trip back in time, to the days of sword and shield, king and castle, when cholera and plague Lords and Ladies ruled the land…and sometimes lost their heads! Join me as Writing Prompt Wednesday goes medieval all June-long.

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, England.
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, England. Image source: WyrdLight.com via Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons License, version CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Prompt 1

Write a poem inspired by the gorgeous photograph you see above. To get us started, I’ll share a poem I wrote a couple of years ago for a creative writing class inspired by photographs such as this, though the name is specifically inspired by Llansteffan Castle, in Wales:

 

“Battle of Llanstaff Castle”
Daylight spills over the castle walls.
Sally forth! Beyond the iron gates wait
Swordsmen whose sharpened blades thirst for blood!

Vanquish, my God-fearing sons, these dun
Swordsmen whose sharpened blades thirst for blood!
Fight them with mercy? Compassion? None!

With high Llanstaff Castle behind us,
Fight them with mercy? Compassion? None!
Foes who come seeking death shall find it.

Now raise your swords up and sally forth!
Foes who come seeking death shall find it
Atop these ancestral and verdant hills.

Glorious battle awaits us here,
Atop these ancestral and verdant hills,
Burial place of our forefathers.

 

Prompt 2

Write a story about a long-standing feud (no pun intended) between two kings, and how it was resolved WITHOUT violence. The more humorous, the better.

 

Prompt 3

Write a story based on the following sentence:

The King watched his future self parade in front of him, and he knew what he must do.

 


 

Hope these give you something fun to work on for the week ahead! Come back next week for more prompts!

K R Parkinson Monogram
– K R Parkinson

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