Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, called the document “an expression of the American mind.” The late historian Pauline Maier referred to it as “American Scripture.” Lincoln and others helped to elevate the text towards an even greater reality for all. One of the best attributes the document’s ideas is a reminder to put tyrants on notice. Its ideals are an inspiration to people everywhere who strive and suffer for something other than tyranny.
The enduring relevance of the Declaration of Independence must be at the center of the nation for our self-governing experiment to survive.
The ideals are revolutionary because it teaches that natural rights aren’t granted by government but are inherent. The government doesn’t order our lives, we bring order and rule to the government. The right to self-government is so inherent in the people that Jefferson once noted that “it is to secure our rights that we resort to government at all.” It’s an amazing but simple rebuke of central planning and top-down control of government over the people. If a government has any authority or “just power,” it is given only by the “consent of the governed.”
The English philosopher Jeremy Bentham offered a mocking rebuke of the declaration in 1776, noting:
What they call sell-evident truths. “All men,” they tell us, “are created equal.” This rarity is a new discovery; now, for the first time, we learn, that a child, at the moment of his birth, has the same quantity of natural power as the parent, the same quantity of political power as the magistrate.
Of course, Bentham is being dismissive of the declaration but he elevates an important point despite his mocking tone. It’s a reminder of the immense power in our natural rights and that those that are placed above us can only be servants and not masters of the people. Yes, a newborn comes into our world with rights that transcend man-made governments. Furthermore, nobody is supposed to be above our laws or entitled to special rights.
In part, Jefferson was tasked with writing our Declaration of Independence to unite the colonies against the tyrannies and abuses of the English Crown. Today, this nation is deeply divided and we live in an era where many citizens are not marching to expand freedom, but to restrict it. They grovel to the government to take the rights of others away for their own political preferences and lust for power.
This is occurring because many people largely look to the government for their rights, believing them to be dispensers of truth and all justice in this world. In fact, this is proven abundantly so by the meltdowns and hyperventilating over Supreme Court nominees. Partly this phenomenon has happened because of the rise of secularism, but also because we have entrenched too much power and authority in Washington. Does anybody else find it unhealthy that people are actually declaring that the fate of mankind hinges on one unelected judicial nominee to the Supreme Court?
To secure self-government and our Republic, we should continue to celebrate the ideas of our independence boldly, particularly the ideas that our rights transcend government. We should denounce tyranny and the concentration of power against the people. Many on the Left believe we must evolve beyond our founding documents, but doing so only invites the kind of tyranny and oppression that America rightly fled in 1776.
Non ducor, duco.