When in the Course of Human Events Criminals Become Heroes

Posted on July 4, 2012 by


Image: CrimeDime

“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.”

So begins the Declaration of Independence.

Those words are powerful.

They are also a treasonous declaration that marked the authors as criminals in the eyes of many of their contemporaries.

Each Independence Day, I cannot help but to reflect on the fact that the definition of ‘criminal’ resides in the eye of the beholder. The revolutionaries that we revere (please pardon the pun, dear reader), were not universally acknowledged as heroes. To the loyalists, they were traitors.

Thus, the path from criminal to hero is one which wanders through time and structures of power. History, after all, is told mostly be the victor. Had the British won the war, we might not know their names so well. And the few we did know, would live in our historical imaginations as infamous criminals.

It’s worth remembering, especially on this day, that today’s subversive might just become tomorrow’s protagonist in our cultural legends. Can you imagine what things would be like without the revolutionaries, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Rosa Parks?

And who else would you add to the list? Supporters of abortion rights? Martin Luther King? Supporters of gay marriage? Marijuana legalization advocates?

Happy Fourth of July.


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