July the 4th
“… We hold these truths to be self-evident… that all men are created equal, that they endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 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 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.”
Such powerful words.
A radical idea that first became a part of our burgeoning national consciousness on July 4th 1776.
The Declaration of Independence was not, nor should it be, remembered as a “memorandum of understanding” as to why the colonies sought to break away from England.
Rather the Declaration of Independence should be interpreted more on a personal… an individual… level.
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This document…. this perfect, elegant document… lays out the foundation as to what makes each of us essentially… human.
The Declaration is a personal statement that lays out one of the most dynamic, and revolutionary concepts: The fundamental dignity and freedom of the individual.
There had been philosophers that had argued that individuals are “free” creatures. Some saw this as a good thing (John Locke)… others… (Hobbes)… well, not so much.
Still, the Declaration of Independence set in motion a philosophical idea whose time had come :A government should be based not on the hopes of living underneath a benevolent dictator… but rather on the understanding that the government itself served at the pleasure of the governed.
Think of it… The Declaration essentially says that we are all independent sovereign units. We willingly relinquish a small part of our sovereignty for the sake of societal efficiency. Yet that tiny portion is decidedly …well…limited.
Some things we cannot relinquish even if we wanted to: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Nor is this an exhaustive list…“among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”
There are other inalienable rights as well.. they were simply not mentioned in the Declaration,… but their presence must be acknowledged.
It also speaks to the inherently transient nature of political structures. Governments may come and go, but the rights of The People remain constant.
Think of the power that has now been recognized in as emanating, not from the Divine Right of a King… nor from the brutality of the War Lord… rather from the Grace of the Creator made manifest in the hearts of all. This raw power… this inalienableindividualism is at the heart of our aversion to collectivism. Earlier, I mentioned that a tiny part of our individual power was transferred to a central government for the purposes of efficiency…. there is also an escape clause.
The moment that a government.. a political construct that serves at the power of the people seeks to expand it’s power beyond, the limited powers granted to it by the body politic, the legitimacy of that government instantly fails. In fact, even the power behind the government evaporates…. returning to the original source:The People. You see… when a revolution takes place, it is not a toppling of the existing power structures…. the moment they sought to extend their control beyond their limited functions, the power that had been granted to them transferred back to their rightful owners… The People to whom the defunct government now seeks to control. It is not that the tyrant has been overthrown by the people… in a sense, the tyrant has been overthrown the minute he chose to become a tyrant.
This political philosophy outlined in the Declaration changed a fundamental understanding of the nature of power and the source of power. It also presupposes that power is not abrogated by national boundaries.
Our rights are granted to us by our Creator. Rights that were bestowed on each human upon their arrival into our world. The fact that one might live in Nevada, and another may live in the Netherlands is immaterial to the concept of universal freedom.
We have always had disagreements on how we should govern ourselves, and the limits of government… this will always continue… as our Framers envisioned it would.
Still the document that set this philosophical underpinnings of our understanding on the limits and purpose of government, became part of our national heritage on July the 4th 1776.