Lawyers following a time-honored tradition

Tuesday morning, members of the Macon Bar Association joined a nationwide effort to read one of the most significant documents ever written -- the Declaration of Independence.

Most Americans have at least heard its initial paragraphs.

“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. ...

But the 1776 document -- so important that Gen. George Washington read it to his men from horseback -- was more than a combination of words. It was also a manifesto of grievances colonists had against, at the time, the greatest power on Earth, the British Empire. The document basically said, we have tried to work with you but we’ve given up and here’s why. Implied in this document was also a declaration of war. Our Founding Fathers knew King George III would not just give up the colonies without a fight, for they had already been fighting the British for more than a year.

The lawyers who read the document aloud Tuesday were following an old tradition. After the Declaration of Independence was released, throughout the 13 colonies, celebrations broke out and an honored man was chosen in the towns to read the declaration aloud. That reading was generally followed by the burning in effigy of King George. Fortunately, the lawyers didn’t go that far. That would have violated some fire code. But they reminded us through their reading just how special this place we call America began. The reading should also remind us of our responsibilities to uphold the document’s principles. Happy 236 birthday America.

-- Charles E. Richardson, for the Editorial Board