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THE Founding Document   Leave a comment

The Declaration of Independence is THE Founding document of America. It established the American colonies intention to separate from Great Britain for some very clear reasons. Some were universal reasons — natural rights and tyrannical government — while others were specific reasons — King George was the tyrant they were resisting. So, in honor of the 237th birthday of our country, I want to take a look at the Declaration of Independence and what it actually means. How many of us have actually ever read it?


IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

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.

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

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


Understanding Natural Rights   Leave a comment

America was founded on the principle of natural rights. Many conservatives feel that the country has drifted far from the practice of natural rights in the last century. This concern is now filtering down to those less familiar with the writings of the Founders and the Constitution. A recent Pew poll showed that more than half the population views the federal government as a danger to their individual rights.

In light of the fact that many modern Americans have some odd ideas of what their “rights” are, it seems worth taking a step back to look at what are our natural rights and what they mean to public policy.

There were three great liberal revolutions in the 17th and 18th centuries that continue to shape the modern world and the meaning of democratic politics and, not at all coincidentally, the scope of conservatism. Modern conservatism originated in opposition to the French Revolution, when Edmund Burke sought to write an account of the English Glorious Revolution of 1688 and use it as a critique of the French Revolution.

These revolutions were not all the same and they all three had different outcomes. While the French and American Revolutions espoused natural rights, they actually appealed to very different definitions of natural rights.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 did not call itself a revolution. The English Bill of Rights that emerged from the upheavals of 1688 places very little emphasis on natural rights (it doesn’t even include the term) nor does it appeal to nature or any form of abstract right at all. It almost seems to blur the distinction between natural rights and prescriptive or historical rights.

This pragmatic obfuscation allowed the supporters of the English Bill of Rights to disguise their revolution as a succession crisis. The official story was James II had abdicated his throne, so Parliament filled the vacancy with William and Mary. This avoided the whole difficulty of the divisions of power between Parliament and the crown that had launched a civil war a half century before and the unresolved questions concerning the Protest Reformation.

The English Bill of Rights speaks not of the natural rights of man but of the “ancient rights and liberties” of the “Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons.” The Protestant succession and Parliament’s own vigilance secures “The true, ancient, and indubitable rights and liberties of the people of the kingdom”. Sealing the whole arrangement are two oaths of allegiance: one to William and Mary, the other renouncing the Pope’s influence over English affairs.

The English Bill of Rights is not addressed to the world as such. It is addressed by Englishmen to Englishmen and does not make universal claims or take a stand on divine right or natural right grounds. It really constitutes the final act of the civil war that had been raging in England for much of that century.

The Glorious Revolution bore little resemblance to the liberal revolutions in the United States and France which bore only passing resemblance to one another.

Both the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the American Declaration of Independence were rhetorical shots meant to be heard around the world. Universal in their appeal, their language is clear and their audience is whoever reads it. Yet, they present two very different versions of natural rights and the revolutions they empowered had two very distinct outcomes.

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