Nicholas Cage steals the Declaration of Independence in
National Treasure — It's a long story.
I saw a couple of interesting movies in the past few weeks. One was
pretty good. The other was a real turkey. Fortunately, the turkey turned
out to be one of those movies that is so ridiculous that you can have a
good old time sitting around and poking fun of it while you watch. I
always love movies like that.
The turkey was Rouges of Sherwood Forest (1950), starring John Derek, the
same John Derek that was later to give Bo Derek her more famous last name.
In this Derek plays the son of Robin Hood, who gets the now rather aging
Merry Men back together to fight King John and his insufferable taxes.
Eventually, he gets the nobles in on it as well. They meet to discuss
overthrowing King John.
At this point, the Archbishop of Canterbury joins in the discussion.
Looking perhaps not un-coincidentally like Thomas Jefferson of Canterbury,
he says that it is not enough to kill King John. What they should do, he
argues, is make him sign a document which will protect the rights of the
people (aka the rich Barons) no matter who sits on the throne. Which seems
like a pretty good idea to most everybody present. So they fight and defeat
King John. But instead of taking him down to the river and cutting his despotic
head off, they force him to sign a kind of contract. A charter, if you will.
An important charter. The Magna Carta.
The second movie I saw, the half-way decent one, was National Treasure (2004)
starring Nicholas Cage. This is a fun movie. It is also a kind of homage to
the US Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Standing at the
Capitol in front of the case containing the Declaration, Cage reads a part
of it; then he comments that people don't talk like that any more. And he
doesn't mean the rather archaic language of the document. What he means,
is that politicians don't say anything important any more. They speak in
generalities and for the sake of the five or ten second sound bite and to
win the next election. Which I thought was a very, very good point.
During the French Revolution, people such as Robespierre felt that the
revolution was established by two phases. "The principal concern of
constitutional government is civil liberty; that of revolutionary government,
public liberty. Under a constitutional government little more is required than
to protect the individual against abuses by the state; whereas revolutionary
government is obliged to defend the state itself against the factions that assail
it from every quarter."
Now the problem with a separation such as that is that it can lead to
abuse of power by those very people that seek to guarantee Liberty.
Robespierre believed that it was first necessary to preserve the revolution,
then get around (eventually) to preserving what had been won in a constitution.
And what they ended up with, of course, was the Committee of Public Safety.
"The revolutionary government has to summon extraordinary activity to its aid
precisely because it is at war. It is subjected to less binding and less uniform
regulations, because the circumstances in which it finds itself are tempestuous
and shifting, above all because it is compelled to deploy, swiftly and
incessantly, new resources to meet new and pressing dangers."
The amazing thing about the Framers of the US Constitution is that they
essentially put their faith in a piece of paper instead of the good
motives of men. Like the Magna Carta, that is a very wild idea — that
a piece of paper can be the basis for Liberty and its continuation
It is often said that America is its people. But that is really just
part of it. America is the Constitution. Without it, we would not have a
country at all, or at least we would have a very different one. No
foreign power or terrorist can attack our Constitution. The only people
who can do that is ourselves, by letting the writing fade from our hearts.