Was Independence Day built the open source way?

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I've been toying with the idea of the how the open source way fits into the certain historical moments. With the United States celebrating Independence Day (Fourth of July), I started wondering if open source had any influence in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. So I'll ask you...

Do you think the drafting of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress was an early form of open government? Was the document, and how it was created, fueled by the principles of the open source way?

Jason Hibbets is a Community Director at Red Hat with the Digital Communities team. He works with the Enable Architect, Enable Sysadmin, Enterprisers Project, and Opensource.com community publications.


Advocating a change from monarchy to republicanism was a bold move that I think can be argued to be rooted in one of the first modern "open government" movements. However, despite the laudable language in the preamble of the Constitution, we know that "we the people" were not all invited to be at the table of the new government. It's hard to fairly evaluate the Congress' actions in the context of today's views & expectations about transparency and collaboration in government.

I think you would find it interesting to read the Declaration of Independence, specifically the second sentence of the second section:
"<em>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.</em>"
To me, that statement demonstrates most effectively the parallel between open-source and open-government. The truth is, we are all invited to the table, however, few make it to the door. Just like open-source projects, many complain, but few commit to the work necessary for success. Tyranny also exists in open-source and when a "dictator" becomes to much to bear, a project can be forked, and new leaders established.
The invitation to govern is to <strong>all</strong>. The question is: "Who is willing to step up to the table and make a difference, and who just wants someone else to take care of it for them?"

Hi Jim,

My point about us all not being invited to the table at the time is that, regardless of the inclusive language of both the Declaration & the Constitution, the only people invited to participate in our new country's government in the 18th century were white men. I agree with you that many people today choose not to be "at the table" in both open government or in open source projects. That's a different issue. But the question was whether the drafting of the Declaration was an early form of open government, and given that women, Native Americans, African Americans, etc. had no voice or choice in the process, I think it's hard to argue that it was very open at the time.

I don't think it is fair to judge yesterday's strides with today's yardstick.

Exactly what I said in my first comment. ;-)

The very point of the Declaration & Constitution was to establish an open government. That women have voice in government today is a direct result of the flexibility of Constitution to adapt to change.

In regards to the inclusion of women, Native Americans, African Americans, etc., during the writing of the Declaration & Constitution, history is clear that they fought side by side one another against the British. Crispus Attucks was the first "American" to die in the Revolutionary War. Don't forget that at that time, to sign your name on the Declaration of Independence was a act of treason, punishable by death.

Don't under estimate the gift we've been given, or the responsibility we <strong>all</strong> share to see that this "open government" stays open. Let us not forget the words of Abraham Lincoln, almost 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, at the close of a war that almost tore the country in two:
"<em>It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.</em>"


I would suggest that you read this:





It is not well known that African Americans had more rights at the founding of our country than they did <em>after</em> the Civil War, including the right to vote in 10 of 13 States. I would strongly suggest that you read the U.S. Supreme Court decision "Dred Scott v. Sandford" of 1857. The court ruled against Dred Scott, sparking sentiments that resulted in the Civil War. The dissenting opinion issued from the court is clear:

"<em>Nor, these justices argued, was there any Constitutional basis for the claim that blacks could not be citizens. At the time of the ratification of the Constitution, black men could vote in ten of the thirteen states. This made them citizens not only of their states but of the United States. (By the time of the Dred Scott ruling, however, five of the ten states that allowed black men to vote had either restricted this right in some way or completely withheld it.) Therefore, Justice McLean concluded that the argument that Scott was not a citizen was 'more a matter of taste than of law.'</em>"



I was listening to a Book on CD on Benjamin Franklin and his actions and thought are so very meritocracy-based. I think he would have loved open source if he were alive today!

Thanks for sharing Drew. Any specifics on Ben Franklin's meritocratic approaches that you found?

Benjamin Franklin's many inventions are well known. What is less known is that he patented none of them, instead, choosing to share them for the good of the public. The lightning rod, bi-focals, and the Franklin stove are just a few of his ideas that improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.

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