Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966



Independence Day is the better name for the holiday we celebrate this week.

It marks the day in 1776 that 13 colonies declared themselves free from the heel of British rule under King George, and started down the road of self-government.

Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence that was ratified on July 4, making this day famous. Jefferson’s declaration held that all men had rights that could not justly be taken away, including to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Jefferson maintained noble ideals but also understood that government power is seductive and corruptive. “If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions,” he wrote to Edward Carrington, a fellow Virginia politician, in 1787.

Jefferson also wrote about the need for rebellions, saying they were as necessary to government as storms were to the atmosphere. “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God,” he said.

Rebellions, both bloody and bloodless, have shaped our federal government in the past 238 years. New ideas – like the abolition of slavery, and the establishment of civil rights and women’s suffrage – changed our Constitution and brought it closer to the plain words in Jefferson’s declaration.

Here in our town, occasional rebellion also is necessary at times to spare us from bad ideas and protect us from abuse by those who hold power. Our elected and appointed leaders are not always wise and benevolent. They sometimes act on ignorance, vanity or hubris, or advance a special interest rather than a public good.

That’s where the role of citizens rests, to steer their representatives back on track, either with phone calls or public testimony at a meeting, or with votes at the ballot box. Citizen action provides the balance that’s necessary for our government to function, because our leaders can’t always know what to do and aren’t always right.

On Independence Day, patriotism and allegiance to country often are identified with gallantry and war and the rockets’ red glare.

The less glamorous but equally important work of a patriot is to follow public affairs and to participate in government decision-making. Without close watch and action by citizens, leaders become wolves and the governed, their prey.

- Tom Morphet


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