While the Declaration of Independence formally declared our independence from Great Britain, it accomplished so much more. Its unique combination of general principles and government theory has resulted in an enduring nation.
With Independence Day just around the corner, it is important to be reminded of our Founding Fathers’ foresight and why the Declaration’s principles matter 236 years later.
“The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,” drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was unanimously approved on July 4, 1776 by the Continental Congress. In the second paragraph, the Declaration spells out the fundamental principles of American government:
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; 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 term “self-evident” is used to describe the previously mentioned rights because they represent acknowledged and affirmed liberties inherent in human nature.
Understanding the meaning of equality is essential, as it is the premise upon which the “self-evident” truths are understood. This notion of equality does not ensure equality of ability, nor does it demand a communistic equality of results or condition. Despite our differences, there exists a fundamental human truth: no one is born to rule or be ruled. This understanding equality requires legitimate government to be based on “the consent of the governed.”
Government exists to defend our rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Our right to life ensures that no one can lawfully threaten the life of another. Our right to liberty guarantees freedom from political coercion. Happiness, explains The Heritage Foundation’s analysis of the Declaration, “is not about self-satisfaction or stupefied pleasure but rather a life lived to its full potential—human flourishing.”
“Politically, the most important right is the right of self-government,” Heritage’s analysis continues. “Violation of government by consent calls forth the right, if not the duty, of ‘the people’ (not any angry individual or mob) to ‘alter or to abolish’ a government destructive of rights and to ‘institute new government’ that will bring about ‘their safety and happiness.'”
The ringing phrases of The Declaration of Independence speak to everyone who strives for liberty and supports the principles of self-government. This Independence Day, enjoy the cookouts, fireworks, and other Fourth of July festivities, but don’t forget the reasons why we have so much to celebrate.
How do you celebrate the principles of the Founders?