DEA Meeting: Guest Speaker Anthony Palagonia on The Declaration of Independence

Dr. Paul Chafetz said that one of the first books the DEA Book Club read was about Silicon Valley and the high-tech explosion of the 1980’s.  He learned from that book that, if you want to change the world, you create – not just a new tool or program or application – but a new platform upon which thousands of people, generations of people can build and accomplish – in ways that would otherwise be impossible.  Some platforms are big, like our planet or our bodies, but Dr. Paul believes one of the most powerful platforms in human history was the establishment of representative government on the North American continent.  Everything we are rests on that foundation. For many years, it has been my practice on July 4th to read the Declaration of Independence out loud, it is very moving – you should all try it – and I have long wanted DEA to mark Independence Day too…so with the approaching holiday next week, that is what we are going to do today!

The Board gave him the green light to find a guest speaker for this occasion and boy did he find a speaker!  Mr. Anthony Palagonia is an attorney and professional educator.  He earned his law degree from Baylor University School of Law and his master’s in education administration at Texas A&M Commerce.  Tony is the Dallas County Area Superintendent with International Leadership of Texas (ILT).  This is a charter school, founded in 2012, which now operates 20 primary and secondary schools in and around Dallas, Ft. Worth, and Houston.  Every ILT student learns English, Spanish, Chinese, and both schools and students consistently win state and national recognition for achieving the highest levels of academic excellence.  Tony directly oversees the education of 4,000 students at the 4 Dallas County campuses and supervises six departments that support over 16,000 students at 19 campuses.  But, best of all for us, Tony is an authority on our nation’s founding documents, and he is here to help us prepare for the 4th of July 2019!

Tony Palagonia joked, as he took the microphone, that he wasn’t sure that introduction was about him but thanked Dr. Paul! Tony returned the favor and thanked several gentlemen that he worked with for 8 years, who barnstormed across the State of Texas, bringing the Founding Documents to teachers from middle school thru high school.  During that time, he learned so much about the Founding Documents, such as the Declaration of Independence.

A year ago, at this time, he and his wife, were in New York City for the 4th of July and he thought “where would be the best place to celebrate this holiday?” They ended up with 2 tickets on a yacht, having dinner with 200 of their closest friends that they had never met before from all over the world.  And they watched the fireworks down the east river.  In fact, they were directly under the fireworks on the east river.  Tony said as they watched the fireworks, he thought “is that how the founders thought we would celebrate this important holiday?” And if you go back to John Adams, that is precisely how they thought we would be celebrating!

Today, we will take a little walk through the Declaration of Independence.  Let’s first look at the relationship to the 4th of July on the Declaration of Independence.  So why do we celebrate on the 4th?

  • Presented to the Second Continental Congress on June 28

that was Thomas Jefferson’s version with a committee of 5.  Contrary to belief, Thomas   Jefferson  did not write the Declaration of Independence by himself.

  • Voted on by the Second Continental Congress on July 2
  • Proclaimed on July 8 (Philadelphia and New York)

George Washington read it to the troops on July 8

  • Signed August 2 (New York delegation authorized)

If the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, then we don’t have that copy anymore.  In fact, we don’t think we have the original.  There are a lot of engrossed copies that the Continental Congress authorized to be printed, but the actual document of that day…they are not sure they have.  We do know, that it is not signed until August 2, and that is after the New York delegation has given permission to sign it.  So why do we celebrate on July 4?

John Adams writes the following to his wife, Abigail, on July 2.

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God almighty.  It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shews (horseshoes), games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”

The Declaration of Independence was written by the following Committee on Style – Jefferson, Franklin, Livingston, Sherman, and Adams.  John Adams was basically Thomas Jefferson’s nemesis in this story.  In fact, both Jefferson and Adams died on the same day – July 4, 1826; the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson died first and John Adams five hours later.  Adams last words were “Jefferson, you lose.”

What does the Declaration of Independence come out of – enlightenment, John Locke, grievances, pledge.

Declaration of Independence (emphasis added)

“When in the course of human events 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.”

Let’s dissect this a bit further.

Here we see in the Declaration Preamble that we are in this together as colonists, not as Virginian’s, New Yorker’s, and South Carolinian’s – but as one people.

Remember at this point, we are being ruled by a King.  John Locke turns this on its head and says to dissolve the political bands.

Natural Rights, where do we secure our rights.  Is it from government? Or are we born with them? John Locke believed in Natural Rights and that we do not derive our rights from the government, but the governments are established to help protect those rights – the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitles them.

declare the causes or list of grievances.

Impel or involuntary / obligated. There is no choice here is what the founders are saying.  And that is what you will find with John Locke.

Declaration of Independence cont. (emphasis added)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable 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.”

all men are created equal is not said anywhere in the Constitution 13 years later, in fact it doesn’t even show up until the 14th Amendment, which is after the Civil War.

endowed by their creator which refers to our Natural Rights.

unalienable rights…. life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – here we change from John Locke, who talks about property.  Jefferson and the crew talk about the pursuit of happiness.

consent of the governed – governed by who, us the people.

Declaration of Independence cont. (emphasis added)

“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.”

Who has been to the Jefferson Monument and read this?  No one. Because this portion is not there.  It was left out.  Part of what I teach to my students is that they need to be able to engage in civil discourse.  They needed to be able to discuss issues and understand the other person’s position, and have empathy, and be able to have a civilized discussion.  And what Jefferson said above is just that…If we can’t have civilized discussions, that we can’t discuss this.

For some of our principles and what we were founded upon and using that as a standard for whether we are carrying out the purpose for which we were founded.

The 4th of July is the day we should be celebrating the philosophy and the thought of how this is carried out in everyday life.

Leave a Reply