Thoughts on the Declaration of Independence

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July 4, 2011 by D Stack

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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 shewn, 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.

– United States Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Probably since the moment the ink dried on the United States Constitution there has been debate on the intent of the Founders. While it is the Constitution which forms the infrastructure upon which our nation is built upon, it is the Declaration of Independence that I feel gives us the why to the Constitution’s how.

One topic that I feel was well-discussed in PBS’s Liberty! series was the permissiveness of the Declaration of Independence. It doesn’t take very much research for it to be clear that the United States upon it’s founding did not certainly consider all men to be created equal. A nation built with the original sin of slavery is quite hypocritical in declaring its belief that all men are created equal. Nor were non-landowners and women really considered equal if we were to go by voting rights.

Yet that hypocrisy has provided the United States with the opportunity to better itself. It has provided the opportunity for the oppressed to call out the contradictions between their condition and the words of the Declaration of Independence.

Reading the Declaration of Independence also reminds us that the Founding Fathers did not object to a lawful government representing the governed. Their objection to the tax act, for example, was not so much to the tax itself (though I’m sure you could find some for whom this was not true) but rather due to fact that the colonists had no voice in the establishment and enforcement of these taxes. From where did Parliament get its authority to tax the American Colonies? Who among the Colonies represented them in Parliament, to take a stand against the Quartering Act?

I hear talk of 2nd Amendment Remedies to our nation’s problems, giving suggestions of an armed insurrection against our Federal government. Yet unless you live in Washington, D.C., it seems to me any grievances you might have fall rather short of the high threshold for altering and abolishing the current government that is outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

First and foremost we have our votes for our Representative in the House and our two Senators. Our preferred candidate may not win an election and even if he or she were to, there is still no guarantee of our desires being reflected by Congress. Regardless of this, we still have a voice in deciding who these people are and have the ability to vote them out of office. Similarly we have a voice in the selection of the President. And the Constitution, which was ratified by all of our states, provides for the President to choose members of the Supreme Court.

Our government may not do what we want all the time, but we nevertheless do have a defined voice in it.

Has our government become destructive towards its end of securing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for its people? That is a more difficult discussion to have, as there is room for debate as to what best secures these inalienable rights. But I would submit that this is why we have elected representatives and elections in the first place – to allow for different views to compete with each other. And there is a great difference between a government we played a role in creating vs. a foreign one in which we have no voice at all. The passing of a law we disagree with, indeed one which we think is terrible for our nation, yet which passes through both houses of Congress and is signed by the President is not a sign of any usurpation or ramming through. We should still fight for our views and, where appropriate, expose the flaws in countering view. Yet that is a far cry from a government that has become destructive towards its people.

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