Decoding the Declaration of Independence

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Decoding the Declaration of Independence

Today marks the 243rd anniver­sary of the sign­ing
of the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence. By
lucky coin­ci­dence my weekly arti­cle falls on this aus­pi­cious hol­i­day. This to me is a per­fect oppor­tu­nity to
dis­cuss our most sem­i­nal doc­u­ment in detail, some­thing that very sel­dom takes place in schools and col­leges
any longer.

As you can see from the open­ing state­ment, Thomas Jef­fer­son
based the entire doc­u­ment on Nat­ural Law, in which he was a great believer,
hav­ing stud­ied John Locke’s Two Trea­tises of
Gov­ern­ment
in great detail.

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.

Nat­ural Law is just as a essen­tial today as it was back when
the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence was writ­ten, yet thanks to our abysmal
edu­ca­tion sys­tem few today can prop­erly define it. The web­site All About Phi­los­o­phy
pro­vides a def­i­n­i­tion of Nat­ural Law that is miss­ing one key com­po­nent which is
cen­tral to the mean­ing as under­stood by Thomas Jef­fer­son and the rest of this
nation’s found­ing fathers,

In the end, where does law come from? The The­ory of Nat­ural Law main­tains that cer­tain moral laws tran­scend time, cul­ture, and gov­ern­ment. There are uni­ver­sal stan­dards that apply to all mankind through­out all time. These uni­ver­sal moral stan­dards are inher­ent in and dis­cov­er­able by all of us, and form the basis of a just society.

The nature of the miss­ing ele­ment will become more clear in
this quote from the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence, the quote is the one I believe
to be the most important.

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;

As you can see from the open­ing state­ment of the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence Nat­ural Law was believed to be God’s Law. At the time of the writ­ing of the Dec­la­ra­tion it was com­mon to refer to God as nature’s God. The belief that God cre­ated every indi­vid­ual equal and endowed each and every indi­vid­ual with our most impor­tant rights are two of the most fun­da­men­tal con­cepts of that document.

Lib­erty is the
third most impor­tant con­cept con­tained in the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence. A care­ful study of the writ­ings of those who
wrote the Con­sti­tu­tion and Bill of Rights will show just how cru­cial that right
was to those gov­ern­ing doc­u­ments of the United
States.
Lib­erty was defined by our
found­ing fathers as the free­dom to do what you want as long as you don’t hurt
oth­ers or inter­fere with the rights of oth­ers.
It is free­dom with the respon­si­bil­ity to do no harm to others,

The next state­ment fro the Dec­la­ra­tion is vitally impor­tant
because it sates quite clearly that every­one has the right to over­throw an
unjust gov­ern­ment. That con­cept is also
based on Nat­ural Law.

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.

The next state­ment is an admon­ish­ment that over­throw­ing a
gov­ern­ment is some­thing to under­take only when cir­cum­stances very dire and war­rant
it.

Pru­dence, indeed, will dic­tate that gov­ern­ments long estab­lished should not be changed for light and tran­sient causes; and accord­ingly all expe­ri­ence hath shown 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.

The final quote from the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence that I
will share for this arti­cle is a state­ment that colonists did in fact have
proper cause to declare inde­pen­dence from Great
Britain.

Such has been the patient suf­fer­ance of these colonies; and such is now the neces­sity which con­strains them to alter their for­mer sys­tems of gov­ern­ment. The his­tory of the present King of Great Britain is a his­tory of repeated injuries and usurpa­tions, all hav­ing in direct object the estab­lish­ment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be sub­mit­ted to a can­did world.

Today marks the 243rd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  By lucky coincidence my weekly article falls on this auspicious holiday.  This to me is a perfect opportunity to discuss our most seminal document in detail, something that very  seldom takes place in schools and colleges any longer.

As you can see from the opening statement, Thomas Jefferson based the entire document on Natural Law, in which he was a great believer, having studied John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government in great detail. 

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.

Natural Law is just as a essential today as it was back when the Declaration of Independence was written, yet thanks to our abysmal education system few today can properly define it.  The website All About Philosophy provides a definition of Natural Law that is missing one key component which is central to the meaning as understood by Thomas Jefferson and the rest of this nation’s founding fathers,

In the end, where does law come from? The Theory of Natural Law maintains that certain moral laws transcend time, culture, and government. There are universal standards that apply to all mankind throughout all time. These universal moral standards are inherent in and discoverable by all of us, and form the basis of a just society.

The nature of the missing element will become more clear in this quote from the Declaration of Independence, the quote is the one I believe to be the most important.

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;

As you can see from the opening statement of the Declaration of Independence Natural Law was believed to be God’s Law.  At the time of the writing of the Declaration it was common to refer to God as nature’s God.  The belief that God created every individual equal and endowed each and every individual with our most important rights are two of the most fundamental concepts of that document. 

Liberty is the third most important concept contained in the Declaration of Independence.   A careful study of the writings of those who wrote the Constitution and Bill of Rights will show just how crucial that right was to those governing documents of the United States.  Liberty was defined by our founding fathers as the freedom to do what you want as long as you don’t hurt others or interfere with the rights of others.  It is freedom with the responsibility to do no harm to others,

The next statement fro the Declaration is vitally important because it sates quite clearly that everyone has the right to overthrow an unjust government.  That concept is also based on Natural Law.

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.

The next statement is an admonishment that overthrowing a government is something to undertake only when circumstances very dire and warrant it.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown 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.

The final quote from the Declaration of Independence that I will share for this article is a statement that colonists did in fact have proper cause to declare independence from Great Britain.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.