Every Fourth of July I read and reflect on the Declaration of Independence. It is something I believe every one of us should do before heading out to our barbecues, fireworks, and beaches. Unfortunately this most remarkable and influential document has fallen into such disfavor by modern academia and a certain segment of our political spectrum. I’m not sure what percentage of high schools and colleges teach about this document in a positive and true light. I think I would be saddened and angered if I found out the truth.
The Declaration of Independence called the United States into being and established the principal philosophies that were meant to serve as the bedrock that this country was built on. The Constitution was written to ensure that those principal philosophies would remain the bedrock of this nation.
By invoking “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” in the opening sentence, Thomas Jefferson is stating quite emphatically that Natural Law was meant to be the cornerstone the United States will be built on. The concept of Natural Law did not originate with Thomas Jefferson. It can be traced back to Marcus Cicero around 100 BC and even to Ancient Israel. John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, which was entirely about Natural Law, most heavily influenced Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence. After reading the Two Treatises and the Declaration it will be clear that all the themes of the Declaration were derived from Natural Law.
Individual God-given Natural Rights are one of the most important components of Natural Law. The denial and abuse of these rights by England was the justification for our declaring independence. The fact that each and every individual is “endowed by their Creator” with rights and that these rights are “unalienable” is the single most important concept contained in the Declaration. This is far superior to all of the collectivist philosophies that most of the world’s population has lived under. Every single individual is the most important person in the United States and the government cannot violate the rights of any individual without breaking God’s law.
Every individual has the same worth in the eyes of God. That is the meaning of the statement “all men are created equal.” All laws must apply equally to everyone, no matter who they are. In direct contrast to socialism, all individuals under Natural Law are not entitled to equal things. To ensure all have equal things governments must forcibly confiscate the property of some individuals and give it to others. No one has a right to take the property of another without consent, especially the government. Every individual has the right to pursue whatever makes them happy, but they must grab hold of it themselves.
Liberty is another crucial concept from Natural Law that is featured in the Declaration of Independence. It is a concept that so few understand today, thanks to our abysmal educational system. Most confuse the definition of liberty with the definition of freedom, which I encountered in this online definition. They are related but not identical. Liberty is the freedom to do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt others or interfere with the rights of others. It is freedom with responsibility. What happens if you hurt others or interfere with the rights of others under our constitutional system of government? Then the government at the appropriate level must restrain you to prevent you from continuing this behavior and the government must punish you to make sure you do not do it again. What happens if you do not hurt others or interfere with others? Under the constitutional system of this country, as it was originally intended, the government, at all levels, must leave you alone to live your life as you choose. That is true for every individual. Are we still free to live our lives as we choose in this country? Sadly government at all levels is determined to micromanage our lives, leaving us all far from free to live our lives as we choose.