Throughout history, nations have been formed and created for a multitude of varying reasons. Most have been formed by people who were of the same race, same religion, or same language. Such societies, which are based upon sameness and homogeneity, tend to be skeptical and even hostile towards “outsiders” and therefore tend to lack universal appeal. Other nations have been formed because of natural boundaries, where geography or topography simply dictated that all persons within them form a country. Still others were formed as a method to preserve access to and protect scarce resources. But the United States is different. The United States, alone among all of the nations of the world, is based not on language, culture, religion, race, creed or geography, but on a set of very simple but very powerful ideals.
What are those ideals? They were laid out for us very nicely by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence:
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 foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
This statement holds five “self-evident” truths:
1) That all men are created equal;
2) That all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights;
3) That among those rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;
4) That to secure such rights, governments are instituted among men, which derive their just powers from the consent of the governed;
5) That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these rights, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and to institute new government.
These are the five great truths upon which the United States was founded. They are the truths that make America what it is.
That these truths were extremely radical is obvious. The world of 1776 had never heard a people proclaim such concepts and had certainly never seen a people form a government around them. But that’s not all that Mr. Jefferson did in the Declaration. He was not simply laying out the groundwork for the United States – he was proclaiming universal truths that are applicable to all people, in all places, at all times. This can be easily derived from the language of the Declaration itself, which states that all men are created equal and indicates that it was written out of a “decent respect to the opinions of [all] mankind.”
These truths are unchangeable and unassailable. They are as applicable to you as they are to the women of Saudi Arabia, who risk severe punishment by appearing outside without an abaya, or to the long-suffering people of North Korea, or to the student demonstrators in Beijing whom the Chinese Communists crushed with tanks and troops in 1989. The United States, with the Declaration of Independence in hand, is meant to stand as a beacon of hope for these downtrodden people, that one day they may experience the truths that have been withheld from them for far too long.
Thus, it pains me to hear people revere the Constitution and shun the Declaration. Most people focus on the Constitution as if it is more important. Such a focus is wrong. Unlike the Declaration, the Constitution is not universal in scope. It serves to form the government of the United States – the same government that the Declaration tells us is “instituted among men” and derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.” The Constitution contains the seeds for its own destruction via the amendment process of Article V. And the Declaration would not have it any other way, indicating that, to the extent the United States government under the Constitution becomes “destructive” of the people’s rights, “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government” by, especially, using the amendment process. Translation – constitutions come and go. The Declaration of Independence, however, remains. As a statement of universal and unassailable truth, it cannot be “amended,” “altered,” or “abolished” as the Constitution can. Perhaps, then, this website would be more aptly named the “Declaration of Independence Center.”
If you have a one dollar bill in your wallet, take it out and look at the reverse side. On the back, the one dollar bill contains the two sides of the Great Seal of the United States. It was instituted in 1782, several years after the Declaration but before the Constitution was even a figment in anyone’s imagination. One side of the Great Seal contains the familiar eagle, holding in its talons an olive branch and a group of arrows. The other side contains a pyramid and the eye of providence. Below that pyramid, which contains the year “1776” in Roman numerals at its base, it reads “Novus Ordo Seclorum,” a Latin phrase meaning “A New Order for the Ages.” For the Ages. The “New Order” established by the Declaration of Independence, which was based on the equality of all human beings, God-given rights, and the ability to establish and disestablish governments in order to protect those rights, was ushered in to benefit all of humanity. The New Order for the Ages has made great strides around the world (and even in our own Country) since 1776. It continues its advance today.
The Declaration did even more than set forth the truths that underlie the New Order for the Ages. It provided a laundry list of ways in which the British government under King George III violated that New Order by stripping the people of their God-given liberty. Many of them ring true of the Federal government today:
These are merely a couple of examples. If you look at the Declaration, you will see that there are many more. The universal truths of the Declaration, it seems, need a refresher even in the country that first proclaimed them.
The United States is great because of its ideals. We are at our best when we have clung tightly to the principles of the Declaration. And throughout history, our fellow citizens have fought for them in so many ways. The brave men and women who fought and died at Bunker Hill, Fort McHenry, Normandy, Okinawa, Inchon, Baghdad, and Tora Bora fought for the New Order for the Ages. The brave men and women who marched to Selma and who participated in the sit-ins fought for the New Order for the Ages. The fact that the Bush-Gore electoral dispute in 2000 did not devolve into violence is a testament to the New Order for the Ages. Everyone who has ever participated in representative government, from voting to campaigning to simply engaging a friend in constructive discourse advances the New Order for the Ages.
You and I have a duty to advance the New Order for the Ages now. The Declaration makes this clear:
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.
So this Independence Day, make sure to support and advance the cause of liberty and personal freedom. Think about what the Declaration means and the universal truths it proclaims, and be glad that you live in a country that has always, even if sometimes unsuccessfully, sought to uphold them.
Andy Quesnelle spent most of his early childhood in Cincinnati, Ohio and moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1992. He has lived in Pittsburgh ever since, except for the 7-year period during which he was in college and law school. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 2003 with a B.A. in History and Political Science. His primary areas of concentration were Colonial American History, 20th Century U.S. History, and American politics and government. He received his J.D. from Villanova University School of Law in 2006.
If you enjoyed this post:
Click Here to Get the Free Tenth Amendment Center Newsletter,