The Declaration of Independence is one of the greatest achievements of man in history. It is great not only because it gave birth to a nation, but because it created a framework of liberty and a clear statement as to why liberty and freedom are necessary to the greatness of humankind. It also creates an understanding of the proper role of government and lays the foundation upon which the Constitution was built.
Here are just a few of the great truths that continue to gain honor today because Thomas Jefferson and our founders were so educated, insightful, articulate and inspired.
Mankind has unalienable rights – granted by their creator and not by government. Governments do not create these rights nor do they have the right to take them away from law abiding citizens. These rights include (but are not limited to) life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You may notice that happiness is not a right granted by government or God, but the ability to pursue happiness is. One other unalienable right that was mentioned in the first draft was “Property”. While Jefferson and others felt that ownership and personal control of property that had been created or legally purchased was one of these rights, it was argued that some might think that governments would need to be in the business of “providing” property to citizens which was diametrically opposed to the right they did believe in – the pursuit of happiness which included the creation, ownership and control of property without government interference as long as the rights of others are not impinged upon.
Governments receive their power to govern (just powers) from the consent of the governed. In other words, the people have the right of self-government and only the powers that they, the people, collectively agree to allow the government to exercise are permissible to that government. The government is rightly there to serve the people, not the other way around.
It is the purpose and duty of government to protect the safety and the rights of the governed.
When government becomes abusive of these rights, that government should then be changed or abolished. Abolishing or separating from a government, especially by violence, should never be done lightly or without extensive evidence of the “absolute despotism” of the offending government.
These founders (56 in all representing all the colonies) pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to these principles of freedom. It is evidenced by the mention of deity four times in this document, that these great leaders and courageous statesmen agreed in general that God is involved and properly referred to in the affairs of men and states.
These concepts are the basis upon which our understanding of the Principles of Freedom have come about and they are the basis of what we need to do today to maintain and recover those freedoms and that liberty for which they and many others in our history have paid so great a price. We should examine our own level of commitment and understanding to see if we are creating for our children and their children a world of freedom or allowing that world to slip into servitude, debt and sorrow.