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What is an American patriot?

The recent debate over NFL players "taking the knee" raised this question: What is an American patriot?

How fortunate for Americans that there is a simple answer. America was created by the Declaration of Independence — the first "law" adopted by the first Congress of America. It was a statement of principles of what it means to be an American patriot. Unlike other countries that evolved from tribes to communities to warlord-governed fiefdoms to kingdoms, imposed by strong men on the people, America started by a legal declaration of the principles of legitimate government in July of 1776.

There was no flag at the time, so pledging allegiance to the flag is not American patriotism. There was no national anthem yet, so standing and singing a song is not American patriotism.

No, American patriotism is fidelity to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. The first principle is, of course, the right to secede from a government that acts contrary to its declared principles. We know this because that is what the original American patriots fought and died for in the Revolution — the right to secede from their own corrupt government, England at the time, because that government had engaged in behavior contrary to the "inalienable truths" declared in the Declaration of Independence:

"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.—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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

American patriotism derives from the idea that the people are the sovereigns and government their servant. The people have inalienable rights. Government is only legitimate when it protects those rights. Government only has the powers to which the people consent and when government acts contrary to the consent of the people or against their inalienable rights, it is the duty of American patriots to throw off such government.

Government officials — presidents, congressmen, supreme courts justices, or any other government agent — doesn't like it because it limits their power, and like all human beings, they resent limits on their power. Thus, American patriotism necessarily results in tension between government and the people. The liberty of the people is a bastion against which governmental power constantly batters, seeking to reduce liberty and expanding government authority. The American patriot understands the greatest threat to freedom is their own government. The American patriot understands that every law is an intrusion on liberty and must be scrutinized carefully against these great principles before liberty is eaten away. The American patriot understands the greatest threat is a government agent willing to kill or cage you for your own good, your consent be damned.

The American patriot "takes a knee" for the liberty of other people to speak out against government abuse, government usurpation of unjust powers and government overreach. The government can wrap itself in a flag, sing an anthem, hold a parade.

The American patriot recalls the principles of the Declaration of Independence and declares "not on my watch" shall these fundamental principles, won with the blood and toil of true patriots, be lost. Take a knee. Take back the flag. Take the streets. Vote out those who intrude on liberty. Declare to the government: We are the sovereign and you are our servant. To this, we pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

Kary Love is a Michigan attorney.