The Declaration of Independence

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

There are three incredible things to keep in mind about the Declaration. First, there had never been anything like it in history. It was believed widely that the only way to have political stability was to have some family appointed to rule….That was the known world at the time of the American Founding.

Second, look at the end of the Declaration. Its signers were being hunted by British troops. General Gage had an order to find and detain them as traitors. And here they were putting their names on a revolutionary document and sending it to the King. Its last sentence reads: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” That is how people talk on a battlefield when they are ready to die for each other.

The third thing about the Declaration is even more extraordinary in light of the first two: It opens by speaking of universal principles. It does not portray the Founding era as unique—“When in the Course of human events” means any time—or portray the Founding generation as special or grand—“it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another” means any people. The Declaration is thus an act of obedience—an act of obedience to a law that persists beyond the English law and beyond any law that the Founders themselves might make. It is an act of obedience to the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” and to certain self-evident principles—above all the principle “that all men are created equal” with “certain unalienable Rights.”

For the signers to be placing their lives at risk, and to be doing so while overturning a way of organizing society that had dominated for two thousand years, and yet for them to begin the Declaration in such a humble way, is very grand.

Larry P. Arnn, President, Hillsdale College

You can learn what happened to some of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence in “Our Lives, Our Fortunes, Our Sacred Honor,” a speech given by Rush Limbaugh’s father. At the end of the text, Rush added these words:

“Sacred honor” isn’t a phrase we use much these days, but every American life is touched by the bounty of this, the Founders’ legacy. It is freedom, tested by blood, and watered with tears.2

__________
The Syng inkstand, an inkstand made by Philip Syng with which the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed, on display at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The Assembly Room, in which the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution were drafted and signed, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rdsmith4. These files are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.
1The Unity and Beauty of the Declaration and the Constitution: An Interview with Larry P. Arnn,” Imprimus, December 2011. The quote is from an adaptation of an interview by Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution for his show “Uncommon Knowledge,” on October 3, 2011, at Hillsdale College. It can be viewed in full at hoover.org/multimedia/uncommon-knowledge/96901.
2Rush H. Limbaugh III, “The Americans Who Risked Everything.”

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2 thoughts on “The Declaration of Independence

  1. Randy Barnett concludes his post, The Declaration of Independence Annotated, by saying:

    The assumption of natural rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence can be summed up by the following proposition: “first comes rights, then comes government.” According to this view: (1) the rights of individuals do not originate with any government, but preexist its formation; (2) The protection of these rights is the first duty of government; and (3) Even after government is formed, these rights provide a standard by which its performance is measured and, in extreme cases, its systemic failure to protect rights — or its systematice violation of rights — can justify its alteration or abolition; (4) At least some of these rights are so fundamental that they are “inalienable,” meaning they are so intimately connected to one’s nature as a human being that they cannot be transferred to another even if one consents to do so. This is powerful stuff.

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