By Dr. Matthew Spalding
Image credit: Libertad.org
The Declaration of Independence was devised, up to a point, as a list of complaints against a distant monarchy. Both King George III and the settlers who did not agree with his power have long since died. But so are many of those who have argued that the Declaration is already obsolete. In fact, that is exactly what those who called themselves “progressive” said a century ago.
Woodrow Wilson, one of the most famous progressives of the early days of the movement, argued during the presidential campaign of 1912 that “everything progressives ask or want is permission … to be able to interpret the Constitution according to Darwinian principles”, meaning that it should be promote a set of powers in constant expansion for a government in constant expansion. The problem, declared Wilson, was that annoying Declaration of Independence: “Some citizens of this country have never gone beyond the Declaration of Independence,” remarked Wilson. “The Declaration of Independence did not mention the issues of our day.”
However, the Declaration is more than a litany of complaints. Its greatest significance is as an affirmation of the conditions of legitimate political authority and of the proper purposes of government. Proclaim that political power, from then on, would reside in the sovereignty of the people. “If the American Revolution had produced nothing but the Declaration of Independence,” wrote the great historian Samuel Eliot Morrison, “it would have been worth it.”
The categorical phrases of the famous second paragraph of the document are a powerful synthesis of the constitutional and republican government US theories. All men have the right to freedom because they are equal by nature, which is like saying that nobody is inherently superior therefore deserves to rule or inferior and deserves to be ruled over.
Because we are all endowed with these rights, they are inalienable, which means that they can not be given or taken away. And since people have these rights equally, governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. The purpose of the government is to ensure these fundamental rights and although prudence tells us that governments should not be changed for trivial reasons, the people retain the right to alter or abolish a government when it becomes a destroyer of those ends.
The Declaration also insists that we have the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” And of course, a higher component of that search is to be able to worship as we please. What right is more fundamental than religious freedom?
On Independence Day (and every day) Americans should remember and celebrate the imperishable expression of the Declaration of our rights, granted by God, to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness and remember all those (past, present and future) that commit their lives, their freedom and their sacred honor to defend these truths.
This article was published by Libertad.org on July 4th, 2019. Reproduced on Political Hispanic with authorization from said source. Also translated by Political Hispanic.
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