The English colonies in America began with land grants made by James I to the London and Plymouth Companies, and developed as business entities managed by shareholders or proprietors in the pursuit of financial gain. Georgia, the last of the thirteen colonies to be chartered, proved to be the exception. Its founder envisioned it as a place where debtors and the “worthy poor” could flourish, though the Crown was more interested in its value as a buffer between Spanish-held territory to the south and its income-producing colonies to the north.
In the beginning, the American companies – whether the Massachusetts Bay Company or the Virginia Company or Lord Baltimore’s Maryland province – were in competition with each other. But as the decades (and centuries in the case of Virginia and the New England colonies) rolled by, their people increasingly recognized their common interests and bemoaned their common injuries.
When representatives of the thirteen colonies assembled in congress on July 4, 1776, they issued a very solemn Declaration of Independence from the British Crown. But before declaring the colonies to be “free and independent states,” the signers emphasized that they were in unanimous agreement as the “thirteen united States of America.”
The representatives recognized their own limitations. They understood that they could not successfully declare their independence from Great Britain without acknowledging their dependence upon one another. Independence from a greater power requires dependence upon another power, whether the collective power of individual states or the ultimate power of a divine being. The founding fathers acknowledged their dependence upon both.
How could Virginia, Pennsylvania or New Jersey stand alone in their independence from Great Britain? They could not. They could only achieve independence through a right and proper dependence upon one another.
This principle that independence is gained through dependence proves true in a variety of contexts. The addict’s independence from the substance or behavior that controls him requires dependence upon an accountability partner or support group and on divine assistance. Independence from an abusive spouse or parent will require dependence upon caring friends and counselors. Independence from mom and dad requires dependence on employers and hard work.
There is no such thing as absolute independence among finite, and therefore dependent, beings. Independence is, and must always be, relative. The man who fancies himself completely self-reliant only fools himself. He is utterly incapable of making his own heart beat or extending his life one minute longer. To such a man St. Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
This is something that is hard for us, schooled as we are in rugged individualism, to remember. We see it across the spectrum of American life. Republicans and Democrats think that they can govern independently of one another. The one-percenters think they can do without the rest of the country, and the rest of the country thinks it can do without them. Racial and ethnic majorities and minorities alike flout one another.
While independence from a hostile power may require dependence upon a friendly one, it is still necessary to use caution in choosing the “friendly power” upon which we rely. Unless it frees us (individually and as a nation) to fulfill our potential, we have chosen the wrong power. That freedom is one God routinely grants and I, for one, gladly declare my dependence on him.
Published first in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, July 6, 2013