Settled matters outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

John Trumbull: The Declaration of Independence painted by John Trumbull. Photograph by Thomas Cizauskas is in the public domain (Public Domain Mark 1.0)

 

Several statements in the opening of the Declaration of Independence are settled matters. The issues are resolved. They are final.

If those key issues are not final but are instead malleable or alterable or subject to revocation the consequences will be horrible.

A speech by Pres. Calvin Coolidge explained this idea back in the 1920s. Let’s expand the concept of those ideas being resolved issues.

Please consider President Calvin Coolidge’s Speech on the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on July 5, 1926.

He lists the three resolved issues:

“Three very definite propositions were set out in its (the Declaration of Independence) preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that

all men are created equal,

that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that

 therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed.” (emphasis added)

He explained these issues are settled, resolved, final.

We can expand on those ideas. We need to bring them into further fruition. We can dive deeper into their meaning.

Setting them aside or replacing them means we go backwards. Declaring they are no longer true is regression to the ancient past.

More eloquently than I could ever describe, the president said:

“About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.”

Expanding those foundational concepts

It took another 89 years after the Declaration was signed until the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was approved. In January 1865 the “all men are created equal” concept was finally expanded to include people who until that point were held in slavery and considered nothing more than chattel property.

It took another 99 years after the 13th amendment until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the “all men are created equal” concept to declare racial discrimination was wrong. Sadly it took a century after the military end of the Civil War to declare the 13th amendment and Declaration of Independence were really serious.

It took 144 years after the Declaration was signed to declare the “all men are created equal” concept actually meant the phrase “all men” was not actually gender specific but also applied to women. The 19th amendment granting American women the right to vote was ratified in August 1920.

So obviously we have expanded those founding ideals. Not revoking them but bringing them into fuller fruition.

What if we discard those positions?

What happens if we get rid of those resolved issues? Let’s ponder for a moment what it might look like to dump those core ideas.

The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence reads:

“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, …”

 

Image is in the public domain. Credit National Archives. Comment by the Archives: “Stone Engraving of the Declaration of Independence – In 1820, the Declaration of Independence was already showing signs of age. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned printer William J. Stone to make a full-size copperplate engraving. This plate was used to print copies of the Declaration. The 1823 Stone engraving is the most frequently reproduced version of the Declaration.”

  

“All men are created equal”

As previously mentioned we are continually expanding what that concept means. What if we drop that idea as being old, out of date?

What if all people aren’t equal?

What if you aren’t equal to me in rights?

What if a governor or majority speaker of the House of Representatives or editor of a large national daily newspaper is not equal to you or to me?

The question then will become who is superior and who is inferior.

Who is ruler and who is subservient?

Who gets to speak their mind as they wish and who must either shut up or be punished?

If we are not all equal then someone else will decide your standing and my standing. Someone else determines your value and my value. You will no longer determine the limit of your achievements.

If you are one of those born into the elite or the ruling class, then life will be good. If not, life will be hard.

“They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.-“

Our rights come from God. Jehovah. Yahweh. The God easily found in the Old Testament if you are Jewish.  The God also readily found in the New Testament if you are Christian.

God gave us life.

God gave us liberty.

God gave us the right to live our life the way we wish, pursuing those goals and dreams that we have defined for ourself.

The alternative is for those rights to come from government, or come from the elite, or come from the people who happen to have power this year.

If that is where our rights come from, then those rights are subject to revocation or change or alteration at the mere whim of someone who happens to have been born into a certain family or who went to the ‘right’ college or who happens to have power at this moment.

Now if you happen to be one of the born-rich or worked yourself into the self-appointed-elite then life is good. You can live life as you wish. You have the right to life and liberty.

If you aren’t one of those making the rules then too bad for you. You only get to enjoy whatever rights the rulers feel like letting you enjoy for this moment.

All the alternatives I can imagine to the idea that our rights come from God are unpleasant. If you don’t know what I mean, please read more history.

“To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Governments get their rightful power from those who allow themselves to be governed. The power to run the government is granted by the people. That power is not assumed or taken or grabbed by government.

The Congress, your state legislature, and your city Council have authority because you and all the other citizens (not subjects but citizens) gave them that power.

The president, governor, and mayor running our country, your state, and your city carry out their responsibilities because those responsibilities were given them by us.

The alternatives are ugly. Would you prefer one or more of the following?

Abusive laws and court rulings. Unaccountability bureaucracy. Judges making up their own law. Legislatures passing laws that are offensive to most folks. Repression of the 49% or less minority by the 51% or more majority. Brutality of a small powerful mob to abuse and push around the vast majority. When my tribal group is in power the rest of you will bow down to us.

Those are unacceptable.

They are not an improvement. Instead they are a regression to the ancient past when kings could waive their hand at their bodyguards and your remaining lifespan would be measured by how many steps it takes a running guard to reach you with his drawn sword. That has been the normal, routine way of life on the planet since time immemorial.

Far better to have the government draw their power from the consent of those who are governed.

So those foundational ideals, those self-evident truths, are resolved.

They are settled.

Final.

As Pres. Coolidge said, to alter or revoke or replace them is to go backwards.

The reward is to have a free government. Pres. Coolidge warned of the reward and alternatives:

“It was in the contemplation of these truths that the fathers made their declaration and adopted their Constitution. It was to establish a free government, which must not be permitted to degenerate into the unrestrained authority of a mere majority or the unbridled weight of a mere influential few.”

Let’s read those brilliant words one more time:

“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, …”

May we celebrate those truths every day, not just on July 4.

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