As we approach Independence Day, the toxic cultural and political environment in which we live continues to slowly unravel our once shared belief in the American Dream. Many people this July 4th will undoubtedly go through the empty gestures of fireworks, barbecues, and family gatherings. Hardly any will reflect on the magnificent Declaration of Independence and how, despite its many flaws, it is a shining, monumental change for all of mankind. Let’s look at four such reasons:
First, it is the first major document in world history that dedicates the creation of a country to key founding First Principles: the rule of law, unalienable rights, limited government, the Social Compact, equality, and the right to alter or abolish an oppressive government. Governments and countries before then were forged by blood, conquest, ethnic group, religion, and similar circumstances. In America, we committed ourselves to groundbreaking ideals. It has been those ideals that have motivated massive changes within our society for a more just and free government.
Second, the document is dedicated to freedom. Certainly many of the Founding Fathers were hypocrites when they proclaimed liberty and held slaves. Such Founding Fathers were flawed and blind men like the near entirety of human history before them. But with the Declaration, they did something earth shattering. They opened the entire world’s eyes to a new vision - one based on liberty, in which free people would rule themselves. The promise of the vision continues to reverberate today.
Third, the Declaration recognizes unalienable rights as the purpose of government. We are used to thinking we have rights that government must respect, but this was quite revolutionary in 1776. In fact, the People were “subjects” and had “privileges” - which means that the government lorded over the people and the people could only do was permitted by the government. A “right” means the People do not have to seek permission from the government. Moreover, “unalienable” means that the rights cannot be taken away, they are born within each person and can never be taken away by the government. Today, too many act like their rights come from government, and they need to ask for permission to do things. Not so. No other society in human society has rested on the foundation of unalienable rights.
Fourth, the Founders risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to win that freedom. As the document reflects, temporary oppression by the government should be suffered while such evils are sufferable, but when a long train of abuses and usurpations evinces a design for absolute despotism, we have a right - no a duty - to revolt. This was not about taxation without representation alone. It was about freedom and liberty. The Declaration lists 27 specific grievances in which the colonists’ freedoms were violated. Many cynics pontificate that the Founding Fathers were simply rich men who started the American Revolution to increase their wealth and slaves while only risking the lives of others. Hogwash. Many of those who signed the Declaration were men of limited means and abolitionists. Some nearly lost their lives in battle. Several were imprisoned in terribly harsh conditions. Homes and properties were wrecked. One even ordered American troops to bombard his own home. Several died in poverty. It would have been much easier to take the side of the British Empire and ride out the storm in safety - rooting for the greatest empire on earth. However, they could not do that without dishonor - they preserved their sacred honor by signing the Declaration.
The Declaration of Independence and the American experiment is not perfect - and never will be. But give the Founding Fathers their due - they reared the fabric of a tyrannical government, and the world will never be the same.
Judge Michael Warren is the co-creator of Patriot Week (www.PatriotWeek.org), author of America’s Survival Guide (www.AmericasSurvivalGuide.com), and host of the Patriot Lessons: American History & Civics Podcast.