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The Declaration of Independence and the American Principle

July 4, 2013

 Today is the 237th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Let us reflect on what to me is its most memorable sentences:

“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.”

First of all, is it self-evident and therefore true “that all men are created equal”? I suppose it depends on the meaning of “equal”. To me, there is nothing more self-evident than the fact that no living human being is the Creator of mankind. And if you are not my Creator, then you cannot be my master, nor can I be yours. So we are all equal in this sense.

Since no one is my master, then my life belongs to me and no one else, the fruits of my labor belong to me and no one else, the decision to act (or not act) — and with it, the responsibility for the consequences of my action — belongs to me and no one else. This is what freedom means. This is why we all have the right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. These, and more, such as the right to say no, the right to be left alone, etc. are our unalienable rights because no one has the authority to take them from us.

That no one has the authority to take our rights from us does not mean that there are no threats to our freedom and rights.

“That to secure these rights…” it would be sensible for us to set up governments and to give them the powers they need to deal with those who seek to suppress our freedom and violate our rights. However, the governments are justified in exercising their powers over us only if we give them our consent. The implication here is that such powers must be limited by what we consent to.

As we all know, things don’t always work out as planned and bad things do happen so…

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of…” our freedom and our rights, we reserve the right to change the governments or get rid of them and form new ones, changing the ground rules, re-calibrating their powers so that we can feel safe and happy with the new arrangements. In other words, we are the boss, not the governments.

The US Constitution was subsequently written containing the blueprint for a federal government “…and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Of all the political ideologies that have ever existed, I do not know of another one that is based on a principle as simple, just, self-evident, and doable as “all men are created equal.” Let us call this the American Principle.

Happy Independence Day to all.

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