The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. This was one of the most pivotal events in the history of the world. It may not have necessarily seemed like it at the time but it would signal the founding and the beginning of codifying the most free nation in modern and I believe foreseeable future. The drafting and adopting of this document signaled the end of negotiations with the British Empire. The “olive branch petition” has just been rejected and those who would come to be known as the patriots simply could not reconcile their disenfranchisement with continued subservience to the British system. So they responded once more by formalizing in writing every grievance, making it painfully clear that they had been left with no other choice.
Before the list of the grievances though, there is the most remarkable fusion of prose and natural rights theory that has ever been known. This is the bed rock and foundation of American culture itself. It is not our government charter and it does not strictly speaking have any legal weight, but it permeates and roots how every American politician, state or liberty minded, lenses everything around them. So with this in mind, I would like to take just a little time today and walk through it all piece by piece and talk about how it created American culture and why it is still relevant today.
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.”
I truly believe that this is one of the most radical political thoughts ever written. This wasn’t one king taking land and appropriating from another monarch. This wasn’t a throng of peasants torching the manor house of a petty tyrant. This was a sober determined collection of well read men making it clear that they could no longer be a part of this polity. They withdrew from a social contract as an entire people instead of as a matter of autocratic politics, for what seems to have been the first time ever.
“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.”
I adore this, the ode to natural law and natural rights theory. They are asserting that the established laws of God observable in nature entitle them to organize themselves and take their own place in the world order. What entitles them to this was the very way the world was created, and it is important I think to note exactly that word created. These are rights, they are moral entitlements written into the world’s programming, the political reboot button.
“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.”
Possibly the most famous bit of the declaration right here. The following truths were plainly visible. They were self-evident, anyone who cared to see them could see them plainly in front of their face. All men are created equal. I truly believe that mean all men in the sense of all man kind. Slavery, I know. The woman’s franchise, I know. There is the simple counter argument though that they still had to contend with their own local laws whether they liked them or not. This also informs my belief that culture wars are not meant to be won using government power, but by using persuasion and philosophy. Endowed by their Creator is very easily understood, you just have to buy into it. Finally I think it is important to note that it is the pursuit of happiness, happiness itself is not and can not be guaranteed to anyone.
” 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.”
Government is established only to protect natural rights from those who would destroy them. Government’s power only comes from the consent of the polity that forms it, it has no intrinsic power of its own. Finally here and most radical, but also most taken for granted today in the modern age is the idea that the people can remake their government at their own collective will.
” Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.”
This is a thought that I think is important and some times gets lost in the shuffle of everything else going on here. It is crucial however that we take seriously our right to revolution. This is one of the greatest blessings, knowing these natural rights for what they are that is the entitlements God has made us aware of in the natural world, is also an awesome responsibility.
American culture is the exploration and protection of natural rights and natural law theory. These schools of thought combined with principles of free association, spawned the first modern decolonization and the birth of the first, or perhaps the second Republic of the modern order. I suppose it would depend on just how you fall on the British system. I am inclined to say that having a monarch with the ultimate veto still makes you a monarch, but I am open to discussion. We see in this most remarkable of documents not the conception but the actual birth of liberty back onto Earth. We see the embodiment of enlightenment politics. We must respect, acknowledge, and hold it ever in our hearts as Americans. We must cherish liberty and fight for it every day, ever meditating on our revolutionary independence, and ever ready to fight for it again. Thank you for your time, have a happy Independence Day.