Louis Edmundo Vasquez’s “Veracity in Freedom” was named the winner of the 2013 Joseph S. Rumbaugh Oration Contest. Following is the text of Vasquez’s speech.
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.” With these words, Thomas Jefferson, one of our nation’s most prominent founding fathers, iterated the unchallengeable dogma, which he believes to be intrinsically true: that certain unalienable rights are shared by peoples of all nations, civilizations, and cultures. The Declaration of Independence was signed by our forefathers in 1776—236 years ago— and yet, the Declaration of Independence is clearly one of the most lasting and impacting documents on our modern society as a whole.
With President General Stephen A. Leishman and Larry McKinley, left, and Chairman William A. Broadus (VASSAR), right, are Rumbaugh Oration Contest participants. Front row, from left, Aiden Johnson (Illinois), Mary Frances Johnson (Louisiana), Annabelle C. Tague (California), Anthony S. Thompson (Ohio), Megan Katherine Carpenter (Indiana), Rachael Wolters (Tennessee), Braden Grace Causey (Florida) and Brian Poythress (Alabama). Back row, from left, Luis Edmundo Vasquez (Texas), Jefferson Richardson DeMont (Georgia), Robert Alan Walters (South Carolina), David Hamburger (Maryland), Joshua Thomas (Kansas), Zachary Smith (Delaware) and Joshua Devamithran (Virginia).
Before the signing of the Declaration, it had been over a year of constant, brutal fighting with the British. The Seven Years’ War (around 15 years earlier) had only further deteriorated and depreciated the relations amongst the British and the Americans. Debt from wars beleaguered the British government, thus becoming the catalyst for the taxes imposed on the 13 colonies. But when one analyzes these taxes placed on the Americans by the British, one can’t help but wonder why the colonists were so enraged by these taxes. Taxes such as the sugar act, tea act, molasses act, and stamp act really didn’t raise the price of these goods a notable amount. No one was going hungry or something of the sort due to imposing of these taxes. So what was it that really infuriated the Americans? It was no representation. The Americans weren’t represented in the British Parliament; in other words, Americans had no diplomatic way to object to or fight against these new taxes. Money, though a meager amount, was getting taken out of their pockets and the Americans could not do anything about it. Eventually, when it became apparent to the Americans that simply protesting these taxes wouldn’t be enough, the last resort option needed to be done: war with Britain; a war fought for their rights, rights believed to be unalienable, rights that (as the Declaration of Independence states) government is obligated to protect. It was a war for freedom.
The main event of 1776 wasn’t to come on a battlefield or during a war; it was the signing of the Declaration of Independence that was the remarkable feat. However, the desire for independence wasn’t the main reason for the instigation of the war against Britain; rather, it was the book Common Sense by Thomas Paine. This book promoted the idea that settlement by words with Britain was not possible and iterated a strong belief in independence at all costs. With the help of the book, quickly the American mood shifted toward independence. Eventually, on June 7, 1776, a gesture to affirm independence came before Congress, and finally, on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was finished and signed. But what was the real, initial effect of this signing? That very day that the Declaration was signed, a handwritten copy was passed on to the printing shop of John Dunlap, who made around 200 copies that night. On July 8, 1776, after hearing the Declaration, crowds in many cities tore down and destroyed representations or signs of the royal power. George III was despised tenfold. A sense of American nationalism pervaded throughout the people, with the main catalyst being the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In the future, a plethora of similar independence statements were modeled off of the American Declaration, with cogent examples including the Venezuelan Declaration, Vietnamese Declaration and even the Declaration of Secession by the Confederate States of America—all modeled off of the American Declaration. The Declaration of Independence was truly the epitome of influential documents.
As we look back on history past the date of the signing, we could easily see how the Declaration shaped our country up to this modern era. The propinquity of the freeing of the slaves to the signing of the Declaration wasn’t by chance; rather, Abraham Lincoln rightly interpreted the statements initially found in the Declaration, which stated that all peoples shared the rights of “… life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The Bill of Rights, which is the name by which the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution are known, is in essence an expansion on the Declaration of Independence. While the Declaration of Independence made general statements about unalienable rights, the Bill of Rights offers specific rights and laws, from freedom of speech, press and religion, to the right to keep and bear arms; the freedom to petition; prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment; and compelled self-incrimination. The Bill of Rights is essentially a further development on what Thomas Jefferson had written earlier in the Declaration of Independence.
Every morning at my school one thing remains persistent throughout the year; the reiteration of the Pledge of Allegiance as a class. The ultimate words of the Pledge of Allegiance, “with liberty, and justice for all,” always persist within my mind for a short time after I speak them along with my class. These words of liberty and justice for all are further exemplified with the statements first written in our Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was the paramount document that has shaped our world, as we know it today. All around America, the eternal effects of the Declaration of Independence are exceedingly overt, and it all began with a pen held by Thomas Jefferson, writing a sentence that began with “When in the course of human events … ”