Iowa echoes in The Declaration of Independence

Across America this month, the Declaration of Independence was read aloud as part of July 4 celebrations.

Americans listening closely — and especially western Iowans listening closely — might have experienced deja vu.

History, as they say, doesn’t repeat — it rhymes and echoes.

The Declaration cited a host of complaints as grounds for breaking away from Britain.  They condemned King George III for:

“[I]mposing Taxes on us without our Consent”

“For depriving us…  of Trial by Jury.”

“For transporting us… to be tried for pretended [read: Fake] offenses”

Three other complaints Congress, and draftsmen Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, invoked to justify America’s break are eerily familiar and relevant to western Iowa today:

TRADE: The Declaration blasted King George III “[f]or cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world.’  

Fellow farm owners/operators/families, can I get an “Amen!”?

IMMIGRATION: In light of the news these days, the most ironic reason for Independence comes in the Declaration’s “Grievances” section, paragraph seven:

“[The King] has… obstruct[ed] the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither.”

That’s right: America declared independence in part because Britain was preventing immigration.  

The founders wanted immigrants.

They needed immigrants.

Though in the Alien and Sedition Acts New England yankees would soon act to limit immigrants’ political rights, the Founders unanimously wanted and actively worked to increase immigration to the young United States.

To be sure, things were different then. America’s population was a mere 2.5 million, slightly less than the Iowa’s population today — 3.1 million.

And even then, certain immigrant and ethnic groups were persecuted in America from the very start — especially Irish Catholics.  

Which is ironic, given Congressman Steve King’s extreme anti-immigrant views, which his conscience manages to square with his Irish ancestry.

THE MIDWEST: Totally overlooked by history is how the Declaration cites the Midwest — and the colonies’ desire to settle the Midwestern lands in the Ohio Valley and elsewhere — as a basis for Revolution.  The “Midwest” sections criticized the King for:

[Enlisting] the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions….  and abolishing… English Laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries…  [to introduce] absolute rule

The “Indian Savages” complaint goes to the Revolutionary War’s overlooked western front.  While Washington was fighting in he east, his lieutenants — George Rogers Clark, among others — were battling the British and Indian allies in the Ohio, Illinois, and Mississippi Valleys and Great Lakes. There, the British relied heavily on their Indian allies especially the Iroquois and Shawnee tribes.

Iowa even had a cameo, as British and Indian warriors paddled past the Quad Cites and past the Des Moines rapids en route to their failed effort to capture St. Louis in 1780.

The Revolution’s Midwestern battles have been largely forgotten, however, as — unlike the war in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and Virginia — the war was a draw, without a Yorktown-style victory.

The “neighboring province” complaint concerns the British folding all of the Ohio, Illinois Valleys and lands to the South into one massive colony — the British Canadian province of Quebec.  Despite the British conquest of Canada in the French and Indian War, it still followed French law and showed a heavy Catholic influence in its civic institutions — anathema to the protestant colonists.  

Finally, the Americans cited for Independence their grievance that the King had “endeavored to prevent… new Appropriations of Lands.”

They’re talking about the Midwest, folks.

George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, and many other Founders had ownership stakes in land companies in the “Ohio” and “Illinois” Country.  These land companies stretched from present-day Pittsburgh to the eastern banks of the Mississippi, just across from Iowa.  But after the French & Indian War, in an effort to make peace with Indian tribes, King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763, declaring null and void American claims to lands west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Washington, Franklin and Jefferson were not happy.  

In Washington’s case, the taking of his land investments and ban on settling western lands was probably the single most radicalizing event leading the otherwise conservative Virginia planter to support the Revolution.

The Declaration has even more eery echoes to America today.

So break out your copy of the Declaration, the document that Made America Great in the first place.

You’ll be shocked at how the issues in the America of 1776 persist in the America of 2018

(Dan Manatt is a documentary filmmaker in Bethesda, MD, and co-owner of Manatt Farms in Audubon County. Note: spelliing of the Declaration has been modernized for readers’ ease.)

Contact Us

Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161