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Rethinking the Declaration of Independence
Townhall.com ^ | July 4, 2010 | Brion McClanahan

Posted on 07/04/2010 12:53:53 PM PDT by Kaslin

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1825 that he intended the Declaration of Independence to be “an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.” Yet, he did not propose the Declaration should “find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of….” The last statement is the clearest articulation of what Jefferson and other members of the founding generation thought of the Declaration. It was a restatement of the rights of Englishmen, modeled in large part by previous works of English and American law. The Declaration was not a radical document or a deviation from accepted constitutional norms, as the famous historian Gordon Wood suggests. But the idea that Jefferson and other founders would be modern liberals persists, and that is why Barack Obama can argue with a straight face that he is following the founding documents of the United States. Such thinking needs a “radical” correction, and a better understanding of the Declaration is the key.

In 1100, King Henry I of England agreed to restrictions on his power through the Charter of Liberties. The English barons rejected absolute authority and sought to preserve traditional decentralized “government.” Just over one hundred years later, King John was forced again by the English nobles to sign the Magna Charta. The “Great Charter,” as it is known in English, declared that the king was not above the law—making him essentially equal to the nobles—and it resisted the trend toward centralization in England. Though on the books, the Magna Charta was often ignored by more powerful English monarchs, but several of its provisions became the basis of English common law, most notably the writ of habeas corpus.

When England erupted in civil war in the seventeenth century, the Parliament asserted its authority, and by 1688 had become the driving force behind English law and policy. When King James II was expelled from England in 1688, the Parliament forced the incoming monarch, William of Orange, to sign the English Bill of Rights. It condemned James II for violating the rights of Englishmen, what the Parliament called the “laws and liberties of this kingdom,” and placed restrictions on the powers of the monarch. Jefferson essentially copied the form of the English Bill of Rights in writing the Declaration. Thus, Jefferson’s indictment of King George III was not a radical departure from accepted English practices. He was following English tradition, which in turn he adapted to American circumstances. This formed the American tradition, a conservative rather than radical tradition.

Additionally, Jefferson borrowed language from George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Resolves in drafting the Declaration. Mason asserted that “all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights…namely the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and maintaining happiness and safety.” Jefferson altered this in his original draft to “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” By “equal,” Jefferson meant that all citizens or freeholders are, as Mason wrote, born “equally free and independent” under the law. The barons of England asserted their legal equality with the king in 1100 and 1215. Jefferson was not stating anything new. And Jefferson simply shortened Mason’s language—which he borrowed from John Locke’s 1689 publication Two Treatises on Civil Government¬—to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Everyone understood that Jefferson equated “happiness” with property and safety.

Another famous historian, Joseph Ellis, contends that Jefferson viewed government as an “alien force.” But Jefferson never used that term. He argued that the colonists had suffered patiently under “a long train of abuses and usurpations” and an “absolute Despotism.” Thus, it was their “right” and “duty, to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future security.” This had been done countless times in human history, and as recently as 1689 in England. Jefferson did not think the English system of government was tyrannical, and in particular did not denounce Virginia colonial government, only the “present King of Great Britain,” George III, deserved condemnation. Government had an obligation, in his words, to protect the “safety and happiness” of the people. That is not an anti-government view, but of course, Jefferson believed there should be limits on government power and, most importantly, the size and scope of government.

The Declaration of Independence did not “create” the “United States.” Jefferson called it the “united States,” or simply the States united. Virginia and Maryland both separately declared their independence from Great Britain, with Virginia doing so over a month before the Declaration was ratified in the Continental Congress. The colonies became “FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES.” Jefferson made a conscious decision to choose the word State. A State, in the 18th century, was a sovereign political entity. In the same document, Jefferson called Great Britain a “State.” Thus, Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, or any other American State, were equal to the mother country. They were not shires, parishes, counties, or provinces subservient to a “united States” government. The Declaration, then, is a decentralizing document, and the first governing document of the United States, the Articles of Confederation, reaffirmed that fact.

Most people mistake centralization as a “conservative” tendency. Human history proves otherwise. Centralization, whether political, cultural, or religious, does not conserve anything but the imperial traits of the centralizers, whether Marxists, theocratic zealots, or something else. Religions, cultures, customs, conventions, constitutions, economies, etc. are often ruined by the centralizers, and thus, centralization is always a “progressive” trend, not a conservative one, and typically the reaction to centralization is a conservative reaction, a push to preserve the culture, customs, or traditions of a particular people or place. Likewise, all empires have broken under the strain of conservative resistance to the imperial order. Jefferson and the men of the founding generation declared their independence to preserve English liberties. It was a decentralized, conservative movement.

Thinking of the Declaration and the War for Independence this way sheds light on who Americans are as a people. They are a naturally conservative group who love liberty and who are also inclined to preserve the traditions, customs, and cultures of their communities and families. Most men in the founding generation viewed “provincialism” as a badge of honor. They were Virginians, New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, Massachusettians, and Marylanders first and foremost and Americans second. They defended the rights of their sister States, but did not want another State, foreign or domestic, interfering in the concerns of their local community. In the rush to force “our” will on other Americans (or on the world), we forget this lesson. The American tradition, as exemplified by the Declaration of Independence and the founding generation, favors limited, decentralized government that has as its only charge the protection of life, liberty, and property, and the maintenance of the cultures, customs, conventions, and constitutions of the States and local communities. The Declaration did not “create” new rights, it simply re-affirmed the old, and it is America’s conservative document.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Editorial; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: declaration; fortunes; lives; sacredhonor

1 posted on 07/04/2010 12:53:56 PM PDT by Kaslin
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To: Kaslin

Amen! That last paragraph summed it up real well. It is the anti-thesis of Obama’s way of thinking.

Here’s my 4th of July message for Obama, prominently displayed on my main page at:

http://www.jeffhead.com

“Barack Hussein Obama, hear us, loyal Americans whose bloodlines run deep in this land, back to the founding & beyond, who have watered the ground of this nation & foreign soils to maintain our liberty & constitution: Molon Labe-Sic Semper Tyranus-De Oppresso Liber. Your Marxism shall not stand in this land, so help us God!” - Jeff Head, July 3, 2010

You might want to check out my comprehensive plan for Souhern Border Enforcement too:

http://www.jeffhead.com/secureborder/

Have a great, patriotic 4th all!


2 posted on 07/04/2010 1:03:05 PM PDT by Jeff Head (Freedom is not free...never has been, never will be. (www.dragonsfuryseries.com))
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To: Kaslin
Two bits I'd not have left out of that summary: Charles I, who laid rest any pretense to absolute monarchy. And the notion that Parliament developed, during the Georges, that since the King wasn't sovereign, Parliament must be. It was this last that we were rebelling against - the idea that Parliament had unconstrained power.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliamentary_sovereignty

3 posted on 07/04/2010 1:08:59 PM PDT by jdege
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To: Kaslin

I have decided to save this to my harddrive.

thanks


4 posted on 07/04/2010 1:09:45 PM PDT by GeronL (Just say NO to conservativecave.com, it rots your teeth!)
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To: Jeff Head

!

How are you doing? Feeling better I hope!

Good to see on the board again


5 posted on 07/04/2010 1:10:42 PM PDT by GeronL (Just say NO to conservativecave.com, it rots your teeth!)
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To: Kaslin
I heard the Declaration read today at a local historical site. Was quite moving. (BTW, they left out the part about "the merciless Indian savages".)
6 posted on 07/04/2010 1:13:24 PM PDT by Ciexyz
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To: Kaslin
A refreshing and heartfelt read.

Thanks Kaslin for giving the opportunity to read it.

7 posted on 07/04/2010 1:27:03 PM PDT by EGPWS (Trust in God, question everyone else)
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To: GeronL

On the mend. Out of the hospital, but several months of hard physical therapy in front of me.

Thanks for asking.


8 posted on 07/04/2010 1:27:22 PM PDT by Jeff Head (Freedom is not free...never has been, never will be. (www.dragonsfuryseries.com))
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To: Jeff Head

Thanks, I bookmarked it


9 posted on 07/04/2010 1:33:23 PM PDT by Kaslin (Acronym for OBAMA: One Big Ass Mistake America)
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To: Jeff Head

On the bend is better than downhill at any rate. Good luck!


10 posted on 07/04/2010 1:44:02 PM PDT by GeronL (Just say NO to conservativecave.com, it rots your teeth!)
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To: Kaslin

Read and heed all you drug warriors and other statists. Freedom means people can do stuff others might find offensive. Liberty means respect for the equal rights of ALL Americans. Even when they do dumb stuff, as long as they don’t violate the rights of others.


11 posted on 07/04/2010 1:46:14 PM PDT by dcwusmc (A FREE People have no sovereign save Almighty GOD!!! III OK We are EVERYWHERE)
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To: Kaslin
Was Jefferson a deist, or as some now claim, an atheist? Not according to his own words.

"THIS article quotes his own words in regard to his views on Christianity and his statement that he is a Christian. Jefferson's statement is just one of scores of statements made by a great many founding fathers who also stated their devotion to and faith in Jesus Christ. Those men's writings are listed in alphabetical order according to their last names, and are proof that the claims made by so many professors and historians refuting the almost universally accepted facts about the religion of the founding fathers and other famous American historical figures are damnable lies. And IMHO the atheistic, socialistic "scholars" making those false claims know very well that they are nothing less than outright lies.

Prayers up for a happy Independence Day for all Freepers, and especially for those patriotic Americans who are serving our nation in it's armed forces. May OUR Lord Jesus Christ grant all Americans a future USA that is as free and honorable as the nation that those great CHRISTIAN men who we call Founding Fathers hoped and prayed it would be.

12 posted on 07/04/2010 1:55:19 PM PDT by epow
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To: Kaslin
The Declaration did not “create” new rights, it simply re-affirmed the old, and it is America’s conservative document.

Right. Most Americans can quote the preamble, or at least those of my geriatric generation can, but not so many have read the text. The Declaration was the seedbed of the Constitution, the document that laid out the structure of America's government and guaranteed the rights and liberties that the founding fathers and patriots fought and died to secure for their progeny. The same rights and liberties that so many of this current generation seem quite willing to forfeit in exchange for Marxist statism that promises it's deluded adherents a Utopia that it can never deliver.

The question that will puzzle me until my dying day is this; Why on God's green earth would anyone choose "change" from freedom and guaranteed liberties to a dictatorial system of government (Marxism) closely related to slavery? It's incredible to me that anyone who has experienced freedom would make that choice, yet almost 69 million Americans wittingly or unwittingly did just that in November of 2008.

May God deliver America from what I believe are sinister spiritual forces that are now controlling America. Forces that are hell bent on remaking the US into a collectivist, atheistic, perverted "paradise" that the Founding Fathers could not even recognize as the nation for which they gave up virtually everything, including life for many, to found. God will deliver us if America's Christians will confess our sins against His holy laws and unite in prayer for deliverance from the forces that now control our government. We have his promise on that, 2nd Chronicles 7:14. But I don't see that happening, especially not in the thousands of American churches that major on getting wealth, physical healing, and "things" from God instead of asking that His perfect will be done in our individual lives, our society, and our government.

13 posted on 07/04/2010 3:15:42 PM PDT by epow
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To: Kaslin
Nice piece!
14 posted on 07/04/2010 6:03:14 PM PDT by highlander_UW (The left proclaimed Obama as a Lightworker, but his work habit proclaims him to be a light worker)
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To: Kaslin

Bump for later reading


15 posted on 07/04/2010 9:17:50 PM PDT by SuziQ
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To: Kaslin
King John was forced again by the English nobles to sign the Magna Charta... the barons of England asserted their legal equality with the king in 1100 and 1215. Jefferson was not stating anything new.

What was new was the equality of every man with the nobles and the king. Abolishing nobility was radical. Universal manhood suffrage was radical. Abolishing monarchy and establishing a republic was radical.

Most people mistake centralization as a “conservative” tendency.

Compared to the anti-federalists who opposed the constitution, our federalist founders favored a strong central government. That is why they wrote the Constitution and got rid of the weak articles of confederation.

16 posted on 07/04/2010 9:38:33 PM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
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To: Kaslin

Thank you.


17 posted on 07/04/2010 9:48:55 PM PDT by FourPeas (God Save America)
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To: Tailgunner Joe

The new government was to be strong ONLY as compared to the old one under the Articles of Confederation. It was still meant to be wan, pale and anemic as compared to We, the People, its sole source of legitimate authority. But you are one who LIKES a robust FedGov when it comes to YOUR pet schemes for controlling others, if I recall correctly, and I believe I do!


18 posted on 07/05/2010 12:22:08 AM PDT by dcwusmc (A FREE People have no sovereign save Almighty GOD!!! III OK We are EVERYWHERE)
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To: dcwusmc

The federal government was designed to be weak with regard to domestic affairs only to protect the powers of each separate state from federal interference. Laws against dangerous drugs, gambling and prostitution are and should be enforced by the states, unless they are matter of national security. Illegal trafficking of drugs and prostitutes into the country are issues of national security.


19 posted on 07/05/2010 12:37:56 AM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
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To: Kaslin

I didn’t read any comments on this paragrapgh:

>>The Declaration of Independence did not “create” the “United States.” Jefferson called it the “united States,” or simply the States united. Virginia and Maryland both separately declared their independence from Great Britain, with Virginia doing so over a month before the Declaration was ratified in the Continental Congress. The colonies became “FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES.” Jefferson made a conscious decision to choose the word State. A State, in the 18th century, was a sovereign political entity. In the same document, Jefferson called Great Britain a “State.” Thus, Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, or any other American State, were equal to the mother country. They were not shires, parishes, counties, or provinces subservient to a “united States” government. The Declaration, then, is a decentralizing document, and the first governing document of the United States, the Articles of Confederation, reaffirmed that fact.<<

How does this fit in with those who believe secession is unconstitutional? Especially since secession is not mentioned in the Constitution by word nor as an enumerated power. One could then argue, that under the 10th Amendment, the power to seceede is reserved to the states.


20 posted on 07/05/2010 5:12:29 AM PDT by NTHockey (Rules of engagement #1: Take no prisoners)
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To: Tailgunner Joe

“The federal government was designed to be weak with regard to domestic affairs only to protect the powers of each separate state from federal interference. Laws against dangerous drugs, gambling and prostitution are and should be enforced by the states, unless they are matter of national security. Illegal trafficking of drugs and prostitutes into the country are issues of national security.”

The prosecution rests.


21 posted on 07/05/2010 8:37:40 AM PDT by dcwusmc (A FREE People have no sovereign save Almighty GOD!!! III OK We are EVERYWHERE)
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To: NTHockey

Good catch!!!


22 posted on 07/05/2010 8:39:45 AM PDT by dcwusmc (A FREE People have no sovereign save Almighty GOD!!! III OK We are EVERYWHERE)
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To: dcwusmc

The civil war was the appeal and the federal government won. (cert denied)


23 posted on 07/05/2010 8:41:57 AM PDT by longtermmemmory (VOTE! http://www.senate.gov and http://www.house.gov)
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To: longtermmemmory

Not necessarily so.


24 posted on 07/05/2010 8:51:48 AM PDT by dcwusmc (A FREE People have no sovereign save Almighty GOD!!! III OK We are EVERYWHERE)
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To: dcwusmc
I thank God our founders wrote the Constitution and included the tenth amendment reserving to the states or the people the powers not granted to the federal government. You may not support the Constitution and the tenth amendment, but I do. You may not want the American people to have the power to outlaw narco-terror, racketeering and whoredom, but I do.
25 posted on 07/05/2010 1:22:24 PM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
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To: Tailgunner Joe

You seem to be suffering from the same delusion that troubles most on the Left: that if only you have enough votes, you can do whatever you like.

That is something the Founders were dead set against. I quote:

“...[T]hat to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...”

Now, just exactly where do you see ANY authority granted to any level of government to outlaw any form of adult behavior? Hint: there isn’t because there cannot be. Why, you ask? Read the last four words of the quote above. As most Americans are grown, and as children are responsible to their own parents and NOT to the likes of you, there is no possible way you can “consent” to make criminals of others based on YOUR tastes and desires. You can consent to have done in your name and on your behalf ONLY that which you, as an individual, may properly do FOR YOURSELF. Only behavior that involves the INVOLUNTARY participation of others, such as robbery, rape, murder, et cetera, may be outlawed, because such fits under the category of self-defense were it attempted on us and we can properly hire others to protect us from it. Similarly, we can demand that our borders be respected and protected because we have the right to similarly protect our homes and families. We can even (locally) require certain standards in PUBLIC behaviors and set times and places where weapons may be discharged in non-emergency situations, but that’s about the extent of it.

What YOU want is not one whit different than what a Diane Fine-Swine or Obambi wants: total control over the lives of others. Which ain’t gonna happen on MY watch.

Now, if you see someone engaging in “sinful” (but not criminal) behavior and you want to PERSUADE him of the error of his ways, fine, I’m there for ya! But for you to try to use the force of government to enforce YOUR tastes and values? No possible way.


26 posted on 07/05/2010 5:42:56 PM PDT by dcwusmc (A FREE People have no sovereign save Almighty GOD!!! III OK We are EVERYWHERE)
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To: dcwusmc
Pardon me for intruding, but I think you might be interested in this. Tailgunner Joe is not interested in freedom as the founders of this country and you mean it. He despises individual liberty. When he uses the word "freedom," though he does not have the courage nor is honest enough to say so, he means only freedom to worship as a Roman Catholic. He is part of a growing movement that wants nothing less than to re-establish the Holy Roman Empire, placing everyone under the thumb of Rome.

The following is from the book Revolution and Counter-Revolution, on one of the pages he links to:

"B. Catholic Culture and Civilization

"Therefore, the ideal of the Counter-Revolution is to restore and promote Catholic culture and civilization. This theme would not be sufficiently enunciated if it did not contain a definition of what we understand by Catholic culture and Catholic civilization. We realize that the terms civilization and culture are used in many different senses. Obviously, it is not our intention here to take a position on a question of terminology. We limit ourselves to using these words as relatively precise labels to indicate certain realities. We are more concerned with providing a sound idea of these realities than with debating terminology.

"A soul in the state of grace possesses all virtues to a greater or lesser degree. Illuminated by faith, it has the elements to form the only true vision of the universe.

"The fundamental element of Catholic culture is the vision of the universe elaborated according to the doctrine of the Church. This culture includes not only the learning, that is, the possession of the information needed for such an elaboration, but also the analysis and coordination of this information according to Catholic doctrine. This culture is not restricted to the theological, philosophical, or scientific field, but encompasses the breadth of human knowledge; it is reflected in the arts and implies the affirmation of values that permeate all aspects of life.

"Catholic civilization is the structuring of all human relations, of all human institutions, and of the State itself according to the doctrine of the Church.]

Got that? "Catholic civilization is the structuring of all human relations, of all human institutions, and of the State itself according to the doctrine of the Church." The other name for this is called "totalitarianism." That is Tailgunner Joe's idea of freedom.

There is much more of this, but I'll spare you. There are links to more of this on Tailgunner Joe's profile page.

This would be frightening if there were any chance of it happening. It won't, because those caught up in this are just as superstitiously ignorant as the Muslims. What kind of people think the only hope for America is Fatima. Good grief!

Hank

27 posted on 07/07/2010 6:27:48 AM PDT by Hank Kerchief
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To: Hank Kerchief; Tailgunner Joe

Thanks, Hank. I guess that makes Joe kissing kin to the Talibunnies. How quaint!


28 posted on 07/07/2010 7:35:06 AM PDT by dcwusmc (A FREE People have no sovereign save Almighty GOD!!! III OK We are EVERYWHERE)
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To: dcwusmc

“I guess that makes Joe kissing kin to the Talibunnies. How quaint!”

Ironic, isn’t it. There is just no end of people who want to “rule the world,” and just know if they did it would be paradise—when what it would be is hell.

Hank


29 posted on 07/07/2010 7:48:03 AM PDT by Hank Kerchief
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To: Tailgunner Joe; Hank Kerchief

Joe, care to comment? I’ve looked at your page and your links and Hank seems to have the right of it.

I wonder just where you got the notion that God needs YOUR help to establish His Kingdom here on earth? What Scripture can you cite as that authority? ‘Cause the best I can find is where Jesus tells the believers to go and be WITNESSES to the world, showing them a much better way to live and to die: as the saved ELECT, who will then live with Him on high. Can’t find word ONE where He wants someone to establish a theocracy in His Name. Can you point it out to us?

My understanding is that Salvation is pretty much an individual, voluntary thing... though the Roman Catholic Church HAS done some pretty ugly things in the past. Things which, viewed through the lens of the Bible, would appear to be totally CONTRARY to the letter and SPIRIT of His Message. How do you reconcile that past behavior and your current beliefs with the clear meaning of the Bible?


30 posted on 07/07/2010 10:48:31 PM PDT by dcwusmc (A FREE People have no sovereign save Almighty GOD!!! III OK We are EVERYWHERE)
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To: dcwusmc

Well, I waited, but I’m not surprised you haven’t heard from Joe. You won’t. He has no interest is rational discourse, but at least you know what he is up to—and he’s not the only one on FR.

Thanks for pinging me to this.

All my best,

Hank


31 posted on 07/08/2010 6:41:38 PM PDT by Hank Kerchief
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To: Hank Kerchief

You’re most welcome... And, no, I didn’t REALLY expect to hear back from Joe...


32 posted on 07/08/2010 7:38:22 PM PDT by dcwusmc (A FREE People have no sovereign save Almighty GOD!!! III OK We are EVERYWHERE)
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