The article below is the 2nd half of an article by my father (see "When in the Course ..." Part I).
“No free government or the blessings of liberty can be reserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.”
—Virginia Declaration of Rights
In the last article we covered some of the background history associated with the Declaration of Independence as well as a few of the trials of some of the signers. Part II will cover some of the doctrine of the Declaration of Independence as well as the intentions of the founders relative to it.
During the 1730’s a spiritual revile – often referred to as The Great Awakening – sparked the fire of the political liberty revolt against England that began in the 1760’s. Perhaps Tocqueville had this in mind when he observed in his book, Democracy in America, that “religion gave birth to Anglo-American society”. In 1775 Edmond Burke in a desperate attempt to bring about reconciliation between the colonies and England reminded the House of Commons of the inseparable alliance between liberty and religion among Englishmen in America. Most writers on that period would agree that political liberty and religious truth are vitally intertwined. The Great Awakening amounted to a spiritual earthquake that rumbled and echoed for decades, resulting in a rise in religious sentiment throughout all the colonies—see Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805, edited by Ellis Sandoz, 1998, pp. xiii - xviii.
From the 1730s on the colonies had been awash in political/religious tracts and political sermons that had proclaimed the need for righteousness and liberty. As stated in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “… where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty.” Truly, the colonies were filled with the spirit of Christ which created the hunger for liberty. By the 1770’s the colonies were the most politically and religiously inclined people in the world. Being thus inclined, they had the courage and will to resist tyranny and establish a republican form of government.
Delegates were selected from this population of moral and politically enlightened to represent them at the Continental Congress of 1776. The delegates were some of the brightest and best of the colonies. The “votaries of independence” as these delegates could be called were comprised of a remarkable group of men. They were heralds of political self-government, extremely well schooled in public affairs and could be easily classified as professionals in that field. For example John Adams had studied more than fifty different governments in order to prepare for this event. At age 26, Edward Rutledge of South Carolina was the youngest delegate and Benjamin Franklin, at 70 was the oldest. It is not easy to classify them by occupation because it was not an age of specialization, occupations often overlapped. Lawyers were more numerous than any other profession, but many of these did not practice law, but were planters who made most of their money from the land. There were four physicians, one clergyman, many merchants, planters and farmers. Some like Benjamin Franklin and Francis Hopkinson defy classification because of the range and diversity of their interests and activities. Most were religious men and did not react on the basis of light and transit reasons, but rather based their judgments on their knowledge and experience. John Adams had written to his wife, Abigail, about the delegates: “A new and grand scene open before men, there is in Congress a collection of the greatest men upon this continent … Here fortunes, abilities, learning, eloquence, acuteness equal to any I ever met in my life.”—Four Days In July, Cornel Lengyel, Double Day & Co. Incl., 1958, p 17.
Most of the founders took their involvement very seriously. John Adams wrote to a friend in Georgia: “This morning is assigned to the greatest debate of all. A declaration that these colonies are free and independent states has been reported … this day or tomorrow is to determine its fate.” (Ibid. p.16) Sam Adams who Joseph Galloway described as one who “… eats little, drinks little, sleeps little, thinks much and is most decisive and indefatigable of his object.” His object; the pursuit of liberty! Unquestionably he had worked harder and longer than any other to make the declaration possible. He said: “If it were revealed to me that nine hundred and ninety-nine Americans out of every thousand will perish in a war for liberty, I would vote for that war rather than see my country enslaved. The survivors in such a war, though few would propagate a nation of free men.” (Ibid. p. 19)
Although not a delegate, Thomas Paine had done much to bring about a favorable climate for the declaration. In Common Sense his words aroused the colonist like a trumpet call: “Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted around the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her--Europe regards her like a stranger, and England has given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind!” He also said, "the hand of Providence has cast us into one common lot and accomplished the independence of America", “We fight not to enslave but to set a country free, to make room on earth for honest men to live”, and “The birthday of a new world is at hand. We have it our power to begin the world all over again.”
Thomas Jefferson had said he intended The Declaration of Independence to be an expression of the American Mind, and that he sought to give it the tone and spirit for which the occasion called—The Story of the Declaration of Independence, Dumas Malone,
The commitment of the delegates to the concepts and statements made in the declaration was above reproach, under no other conditions would they have been willing to conclude their declaration with these words: “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.” Many of the signers lost their fortunes, honor and lives as a result of signing the declaration, as reported in Part I of this series.
On July 2nd they voted in favor of the Lee Resolution declaring our independence from England. The next two days were spent debating the wording of the Declaration of Independence as written by Thomas Jefferson. Some changes in the original draft were made which affected an economy in words and actually improved the document. “They deleted unnecessary phrases and eliminated the most extravagantly worded of all charges about foreign slave trade. This trade richly deserved condemnation, and the British government had certainly imposed obstacles when the
“When in the course of human events” The Declaration of Independence begins, “it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds 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 declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
It was not the intent or the desire of the delegates to merely recite a long train of abuses and usurpation’s by England, but to establish the United States on a firm foundation. Accordingly, it was necessary to articulate an unimpeachable legal basis upon which they could declare their independence. It was “the law of nature and of nature’s God” which permitted the creation and organization of their new government. God-given rights were sometimes called Natural Rights - those possessed by Man under the Laws of Nature, meaning under the laws of God’s creation and therefore by gift of God. Man has no power to alienate - to dispose of, by surrender, barter or gift - his God-given rights. Therefore it was “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” which permitted the establishment of a government. This portion of the declaration was not debated - the founders commonly held the understanding that God was the Creator and the lawgiver of all men.
This concept was generally recognized by men in the European and English legal tradition and written of by many scholars. For example, the founders were prolific readers and had read the writings of many of these scholars. Baron de Montesquieu, a founder’s favorite had written in 1751; “God is related to the universe as creator and preserver; the laws by which he has created all things are those by which he preserves them.” —The Spirit of Laws, Baron de Montesquieu, Dublin: G. & A. Ewing, 1751. Sir William Blackstone, the most prolific legal expositor of his day whose books sold more copies in the colonies than in England had written in 1765: “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.”—Commentaries on the Law of England, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1765. Unfortunately, this concept of the genesis of our government - laws has not been preserved among the citizens, civil representatives, and judges, appointed governmental officials, educators and media moguls. We have lost the basis of our heritage and the virtues of self-government and now assume that if God exists, He is irrelevant to government and law.
Much of the Declaration of Independence documents the causes which impelled them to separate themselves from Mother England. Rather than spending time on them, I prefer to discuss the founding stones for their separation, the religious/political philosophy. They can be covered in the five points:
- “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”
- Everyone is endowed by God with certain unalienable rights.
- The people are endowed with the right to govern themselves according to their common consent.
- The people retain the right to alter or abolish an unlawful form of government as an exercise of self-government.
- The people are free to organize the civil government’s power in such a way as to secure their happiness
1. “We hold these truths to be self-evident That all men are created equal:”
In his First Inaugural Address Thomas Jefferson said: “Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political … is the goal.” “… the important ends of Civil Society” said Benjamin Franklin, “and the personal Securities of Life and Liberty, these remain the same in every Member of the society; and the poorest continues to have an equal Claim to them with the most opulent, whatever Difference Time, Chance, or Industry may occasion in their Circumstances.”—PA Evening Post, Library of Congress, Copy; March 14, 1776; p. 2, col.2.
2. “All people are endowed by God with certain unalienable rights. “
“The term ‘Unalienable rights’ should, in every instance of use, be read as meaning God-given, unalienable rights, because the only basis for considering them to unalienable is the fundamental and uniquely American concept of their Divine origin—that Man possesses them solely by reason of endowment by his Creator. Unless considered to be of Divine origin, these rights cannot properly be classified as being unalienable. They are then subject to being considered as mere conditional privileges granted by government. In such case, there can be no moral or constitutional basis for objecting to their violation, by government or by others, such as exists in the cast of God-given rights as protected traditionally by the American constitutional system; such government-granted privileges are not comparable in dignity with God-given rights.”—The American Ideal of 1776, Hamilton Abert Long, 1976, pg. xxxi.
Modern day liberals have deliberately attempted to change the meaning of many of the words used by our founders (Providence, Laws of Nature, Unalienable, etc.). This is in order to disregard the existence of God -- by so doing they hope to vanquish the true foundation of our nation’s liberty and prepare the way for a totalitarian government (New World Order), where all rights would proceed from the government. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God”—Notes on the State of Virginia, 1782. Alexander Hamilton in an essay, “The Farmer Refuted”, 1775 wrote: “"The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.” —The Works of Alexander Hamilton; Vol. II, edited by John C. Hamilton, 1850, .p 80.
3. “… governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;”
George Washington stated: “The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government.”—George Washington’s Farewell Address. The founders created the government primarily to serve one supreme purpose: to “secure” the safety and enjoyment of their God-given, unalienable rights.” This principle requires that civil government exercise only those powers which are specifically granted. If a power is not granted the national government does not possess it, and therefore may not act as though it does possess it. The principle of consent is found throughout the constitution. The Preamble asserts that: “We the people, of the United States … do ordain and establish this constitution.” The whole notion of our government is predicated upon the requirement that the people consent together to establish the form of civil government. The Constitution states we have a republican form of government – both state and national. Republican, meaning; that the people’s representatives govern according to a written delegation of authority. Under this concept, the representatives do not govern according to opinion polls, lobbyist desires or their own self-interests. They are charged to govern according to law, administered within the context of the written constitution. Our founders repeatedly counseled on this subject, “Rulers are the servants and agents of the people, the people are their masters.”—Patrick Henry, Virginia Ratifying Convention, 1788. “That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people, that magistrates are their trustees and servants.—Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776. Elbridge Gerry, a delegate, wrote in his “An Essay” “All [American] writers on government agree . . . That the origin of all powers is in the people, and that they have an incontestable right to check the creatures of their own creation, vested with certain powers to guard the life, liberty, and property of the community …”—Observations on the New Constitution …, by A Columbian Patriot, 1788; Library of Congress copy, p.6. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Kentucky Resolutions: “In question of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.”—Writings of Jefferson; Vol 2, p. 221.
4. The people retain the right to alter or abolish an unlawful form of government as an exercise of self-government; “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 .”
5. The Declaration asserts that the people are responsible for instituting new government. “laying it Foundation on such Principles, and organizing it Powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
At the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788 Patrick Henry reminded the delegates that: “Rulers are the servants and agents of the people, the people are their masters.”—Elliot’s Debates; Vol. 3, p 324. Samuel Adams also said: “The multitude I am speaking of, is the body of the people – no contemptible multitude – for whose sake government is instituted; or rather, who have themselves erected it, solely for their own good – to whom even kings and all in subordination to them, are strictly speaking, servants and not masters.”—“Samuel Adams Writings; Vol. 2, p. 142. Over and over again, the founders expressed the theme that the government that governs best governs least. The first attempt at national government, “The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union in 1777 proved to be a disaster, almost costing them the war and the peace. Subsequently, in 1787, our constitution was written and submitted to the states for ratification. It incorporated the principles so often espoused by them – a government with limited powers and dedicated primarily to serve one supreme purpose: to secure the safety and enjoyment of their God-given, unalienable rights.
In summary, the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence were formulated and implemented by a people that had the spirit of Christ in their lives, cherished freedom and were willing to die for it. Absent that “spirit”, the people are willing to forego freedom in the pursuit of hedonism and/or materialism. As the people continue along this path, it inevitably leads to a break down in law. The government responds with more and more laws, each one reducing the liberties of the people for a vaporous personal security. Then one morning, too late, they awaken to the reality that they have been enslaved by a tyrannical government. And so the cycle begins again, requiring bloodshed to restore the inalienable rights of man.
The principles discussed herein were well understood and faithfully supported by all generations of Americans, from the birth of our Republic in 1776. However the past several generations have allowed themselves to become confused, betrayed, and have abandoned these principles for false riches and temporary pleasure. Earlier generations in America have made mistakes, to be sure, but nothing comparable to this betrayal and abandonment!
- Four Days In July, by Cornel Lengyel, Doubleday & Co.Inc., 1958.
- The American Ideal of 1776. By Hamilton Abert Long, Your Heritage Books, Inc., Philadelphia, 1976.
- The Story of the Declaration of Independence, by Dumas Malone, University Press, 1954.
- Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730 -1805, Edited by Ellis Sandoz, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 1991.
- The Spark of Independence, History Book Club, New York, 1997.
- They Signed For Us, by Merle Sinclair & Annabel Douglas McArthur, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1957.
- Rediscovering the Ideas of Liberty, by David Stedman & Vaugh G. Lewis, W. David Stedman Associates, Asheboro, N.C., 1995.