I felt in my journey that I needed to start at the beginning. The beginning for me was the Declaration of Independence. All the things that led to it were interesting and I love reading about them, but, the Declaration is really the beginning of America as we know it. It has no legal binding, but, it really is the manifesto of American democracy or a republic as it is structured. I won't bore you with a recitation of everything I found in it, but suffice it to say it's one of the most important documents ever written in the history of mankind.
It staked out a place in which man was able to govern himself overturning eons of monarchical rule. It certainly overturned nearly 2000 years of governance in western history. In reading it you should focus on the second part, just after the preamble. "When in the course of human events" leads to the second part or the world's greatest editorial. It answers the question "why?" Why should the Americans desire to separate from the king?
The second part really reads like poetry or a song. Read it slowly and enjoy what it has to say about the ability of man to govern himself and then allow the shear revolutionary nature of its message to penetrate your mind. Swish it around like a good drink and revel in the audacity of its message. Poetry indeed. It is what we are, or strive to be.
With all its poetry, however, remember that it didn't materialize in a vacuum. The founders were voracious readers of all types of literature. They became the ultimate Enlightenment thinkers, not because they wrote, but because they DID. They put words into action. The third part is a list of grievances against the king.
They were tempered by the committee as they could have been over the top. My friend Oso once pointed out to me that he was upset at the writers for calling Native Americans "savages." That's a valid point. But in perspective, the early colonists differentiated the natives between those they were able to live with and those that they fought. The Declaration refers to recent atrocities "out west" after the British abandoned the west following the last French and Indian War in 1763.
Pontiac's War soon followed and the British issued the Proclamation of 1763 forbidding settlement west of the Appalachians. The Americans, being entrepreneurial in nature, refused to give up on good land and basically ignored it. Battles ensued between the settlers and the Indians and they were very brutal on both sides, hence the "savage" reference.
Read the Declaration for what it is, the best written version of the ideals of a perfect government ever written. But alas, governments are made by men and they are imperfect. As Madison said in Federalist 10, "If men were angels no government would be necessary."
So ends installment one.