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Declaration of Independence - excerpts

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The lofty rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence from 1776 is so fundamental to American political values that it deserves review.  Excepts are repeated here, without all the grievances which were listed as a final attempt to justify their actions to the King and Parliament in case war could still be avoided.

Personal thoughts about the Declaration follow the excerpts below.

"We hold these truths to  be self-evident ..."
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 foundations 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 shown, 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.

(a long list of specific grievances follows in the Declaration)

'... are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states..."
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 our attention to our British 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 intercept 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, as 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 of 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.

(followed by all the signatures)

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Personal thoughts about the Declaration of Independence  
When was the last time that a group of US political leaders of differing views agreed to "mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor", as they concluded in July 1776?

Those are not just pretty words.  Look up the punishment for treason in their time.  If you ever wondered about the meaning of "cruel and unusual punishment", or the quote after the signing of the Declaration about needing to hang together or all hang separately, this should provide the very grim context of that era.

 
The point is that "governments are instituted among men" through informed consent and common purpose, rather than partisan rancor.

There is plenty to debate, as nobody has a monopoly on good ideas, but the premise is one of cooperation to achieve progress together on great issues rather than endless petty bickering over partisan positions.

The endless flow of ad hominem political attacks in recent years is the work of petty and egotistical, arrogant minds rather than great leaders.  It is a national disgrace, dishonoring all Americans.

 
Those who primarily focus on political party loyalty and power ahead of respectful debate and careful consideration of differing view are working in the wrong system of government.

This is not a parliamentary system in which one party rules while the other sits on the back bench in opposition, plotting for the eventual day when they can be elected to rule with similar power again.

Nancy Pelosi, in particular, openly declared that her role was to ensure that her party won more power in the next election.  She is not Prime Minister.  Party politics is not the principle on which the House and Senate were created in our system of government.  They are forums to achieve progress together, rather than for a few rulers to impose any laws they want by decree like tyrannical oligarchs in an authoritarian system of government.

All representatives should be respected, not because of their political party affiliation or seniority, but because they were chosen by voters through free and fair elections to do the work of government as public servants with their "sacred honor" at stake.  They all serve the entire country by working with each other, and bring dishonor on their high offices by disrespectfully attacking each other.

The individual freedoms which we take for granted are still remarkable in much of the world more than 200 years after our Revolutionary War.  There is much in this "status quo" which merits vigilant conservative protection against the latest liberal ideas about how to mandate changes in our lives through federal government power.

Educating for Liberty: The Best of Imprimis, 1972-2002, by Douglas A. Jeffrey

 

Scholars have made careers out of the study of this relatively brief but crucial period of history as an inflection point in the modern theory and practice of government institutions and policies.

The point is simply that it is worthwhile to get back to basics, and despite any flaws in the compromises which made it possible to reach consensus in the past, recognize that truly great things can be accomplished within just a few years with principled leadership and unity about proposed changes, rather than mandated changes.

 
Not even the formidable military powers of Great Britain at the height of its empire could mandate changes against citizens who would no longer consent to their continued rule, whether in the birth of the United States or the independence of India roughly 170 years later.

Similarly, not even the ruthless tyranny of many despotic regimes has proven capable of lasting for very long in modern history.  The ideals and achievements of the United States, as a united people who keep trying to improve our representative government, have stood in stark contrast to many foreign leaders who have sought to defend only their own unchecked powers to rule with impunity and misery for all.

Such tyranny is not always a direct threat to us, but we should remain vigilant about abuses of the trust and power we place in the hands of our own elected officials in either political party.  They are elected to serve the people of this country - not for their party to gain the power which they need to impose their own rules through federal government mandates.  That is what we fought against, not to create and defend.

In our system, it is up to us, the individual voters, to always remain vigilant against nascent tyranny or any other abuses of public trust or power by the elected officials of any party from any state.  This is not a government of allegiance sworn to those who wield power today.  We the people are still in charge here. 

Our oath of office is the other way around - to honor the power of the people who elect our leaders.  We don't swear allegiance to our political party or to a particular leader.  Our elected and appointed public officials swear to uphold the Constitutional protections which reflect the will of all the citizens of America, not the will of the current leaders or political party which have obtained a majority of votes at the time. 

 
   
 

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Last modified: 02/27/11