|The Dunlap Broadside, |
the version of the declaration printed on July 4, 1776
It should come as no surprise that the United States of America is my favorite country. It's not only because I live here. I have traveled and I'm widely read; and while I admire much about other countries, I love America for its primacy in codifying the ideals to which so many others have since aspired.
Two hundred forty years and two days ago the Continental Congress of the United States declared war on Great Britain. But it wasn't until two days later that the Declaration of Independence was signed. In the signing of it, each signer branded himself as simultaneously a traitor to the Crown and a Founding Father of a new nation.
One of the traitorous concepts offered was that all Men are created equal. Something completely unknown to most people today is that in early drafts of the Declaration, one of the charges made against the King is that he forced slavery on the colonies. This charge was removed in later drafts so as not to alienate pro-American Britons as well as those colonies that now depended upon the practice in the coming struggle for Independence. But it's a charge that was understood, deeply felt, and explicitly expressed. It was leveled at an institution directly at odds with the Founders' principles... an institution it took this Declaration, two Constitutions, the passage of laws and executive orders, and the Civil War to rid us of... as well as an amendment to the Constitution to eradicate even in principle. An institution the echoes of which are still heard.
People who lack the long view of History often cast the Founders as hypocrites. They were not. They were idealists who had to establish a workable Union in a less-than-ideal world. They picked their battles and fought them well.
At the center of every one of those battles was the Individual. The Individual had rights, granted by God Himself, and affirmed (not "granted") by the country's founding documents. Those rights included protections for the Individual against an abusive government. The very structure of the country protects the rights and privileges of the Individual from the caprice of mob rule. We don't have a Democracy, but a representative Republic. We have taken the idea of Democracy and tempered it to make it less fragile. The laws do not reside with the lawmakers alone, but may be tempered and moderated by the Court. The Court is not that of a King, or any single person. There is no King; our Chief Executive is not there to make law, but to see that the laws are carried out. Our President is intended to be a servant, not a ruler.
It's when we depart from this that we falter. Stone-deaf ignorant fools denounce "ideology" as if they knew what it meant. There is nothing at all wrong with being an ideologue if your ideology is sound. An ideology is a compass, a guide, and a framework all in one. An ideology does not blind you to what is right; it guides you toward what is right even when faced with obstructions or distractions. An ideal is not invalid merely because it is incompletely applied. The solution in such a case is to fairly apply the ideal, not to declare that it's stale and antiquated. For instance, amendments to those founding documents affirmed that those unalienable rights applied to more and more people; they did not deny that the rights existed. We must never stupidly conclude that people are not created equal or lack other unalienable rights simply because of the race and gender of those who affirmed those rights or the age of the parchment on which they wrote that affirmation.
Those without ideology cannot help but be hypocrites. My political ideology is expressed in our Constitution. It's expressed in the discourse that preceded it. But it begins with this document, the Declaration of Independence. That is independence not just of the Thirteen Colonies from England, but independence of individual human beings from those who claim a right to rule them.
"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..."Self-evident. Not requiring proof. So blatantly obvious that you'd have to be blind or a fool to disavow them.
Created equal. No one has an inherent right to rule another. There is no Aristocracy, there is no Royalty, there is no Untouchable caste. Any American can aspire to anything. Any American can fall.
Unalienable Rights. They cannot be withdrawn. Woe to those who would try.
Consent of the governed. The government works for us, not just collectively, but as individuals. Remember that. Make the government remember it.
Happy Independence Day.