The signers of the Declaration of Independence were certainly men of principle.Their action clearly defines them as such. From George III’s point of view, however, these men were contravening natural law in defying their king. In essence, he was correct for at least 100 years as the British Empire expanded around the globe and the monarch became the leader of vast quantities of land and people. But from the point of view of the 20th and 21st centuries, George III’s concept is not only anachronistic, it is flat out wrong. The relevance of kings in the scheme of human affairs today is nil and our allegiance to such could almost be seen as servile.
Given this, it almost seems as if principle is mutable depending on the world situation. How does one know what principle, the right and moral way, is correct? That question resounds and can best be answered by saying that principle is not transitory, it comes from the head and the heart. It is the thing that separates the good banker, the good antique dealer, the good doctor, etc., from those that are unprincipled or who are acting only on impulse. Indeed, a principled person is leaving his principle for future generations–it is among the only things of value that we, as human beings, can leave to posterity. If our judgment is wrong as was George III’s, we will be judged harshly, if it is deemed correct, that principle will be held in high regard as it is with the signers of the Delcaration.
The problem is, of course, is that no one is pure. We all make mistakes and we compromise ourselves. Winston Churchill, Britain’s great war time PM, is almost remembered as much for his intransigence on the emancipation of Britain’s colonies as he is for his valor in the face of the enemy. Is that fair? Probably not, but Churchill’s emotional attachment to the Empire did not allow him to make the right judgment. Indeed, it is our emotional attachments that often lead us down a slippery slope that lead away from principled action. Remember that our White House was burned down nearly two hundred years ago and that has not prevented us from partnering with Britain in just causes since that date. It has always been the principle that matters, nothing else.