“Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit.”
In 1320, during the long war between the Scots and the English, a group of nobles loyal to King Robert the Bruce sent a petition to the Pope, explaining what they had done and why. Edward I and Edward II had claimed the throne of Scotland through a complicated series of claims that ended (in the case of Edward I Longshanks) with “Because I’m bigger and meaner and my army is here, that’s why.” The Scots disagreed, or some Scots disagreed. And so, after much fighting, as things were winding down, the lords sent a declaration to the Pope.
It included the famous lines:
From these countless evils, with His help who afterwards soothes and heals wounds, we are freed by our tireless leader, king, and master, Lord Robert, who like another Maccabaeus or Joshua, underwent toil and tiredness, hunger and danger with a light spirit in order to free the people and his inheritance from the hands of his enemies. And now, the divine Will, our just laws and customs, which we will defend to the death, the right of succession and the due consent and assent of all of us have made him our leader and our king. To this man, inasmuch as he saved our people, and for upholding our freedom, we are bound by right as much as by his merits, and choose to follow him in all that he does.
But if he should cease from these beginnings, wishing to give us or our kingdom to the English or the king of the English, we would immediately take steps to drive him out as the enemy and the subverter of his own rights and ours, and install another King who would make good our defence. Because, while a hundred of us remain alive, we will not submit in the slightest measure, to the domination of the English. We do not fight for honour, riches, or glory, but solely for freedom which no true man gives up but with his life.
Note, that they warn that if Robert the Bruce or his successors don’t stick with independence from England, the lords will oust even him and find a king who will. It’s not exactly freedom in the later Bill of Rights sense, but the passion is there, and the Scots put their lives and fortunes where their mouths were.
I had not heard of the Declaration of Arbroath until I heard John Rhys-Davies declaim it in a “history and Lord of the Rings” program, when he narrated a description of the Battle of Sterling Bridge.
If you listen carefully to history, it can echo. And so:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
We, and all those who are American in spirit if not nationality, “hold these truths to be self evident: that all Men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 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, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
1320 – 1776. And don’t forget 1215, when English lords cornered John at Runnymede and forced him to acknowledge limits to royal power: all free-born Englishmen had certain legal rights (and lords had more, but it was a starting point.) The 1689 the English Bill of Rights built on that start with updates and expansions (for certain Protestants, but it was another step forward).