Our Declaration of Independence is a document worth rereading once a year to remind ourselves of the extraordinary uniqueness of the American Republican form of government – the basis of what is often called "American Exceptionalism."
For the first time in history, a people asserted a new political philosophy: that individuals' natural rights – liberty! – came from the Creator (rather than an earthly ruler), and that the power of governance flowed from the Creator to individuals, who in turn granted governing power to authorities (i.e., the government). Prior to that time, power was presumed to flow from the Creator to a monarch, who in turn granted limited liberty to individuals at his whim.
Weary of the tyrannical treatment of the English monarchy, the American Declaration made an eloquent case that a ruler could abuse individuals' God-given liberty only as long as the people allowed it, and these people would no longer allow it!
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…
The Declaration goes on to enumerate a long list of government abuses at the hand of the King, among them:
- He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
- He has obstructed the Administration of Justice …
- He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone …
- He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
- For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.
- For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments…
It also spells out that this declaration to form a new government of free people was made only after efforts to compromise with the monarchy had failed:
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
Historian David Armitage, author of The Declaration of Independence: A Global History (Harvard University Press), called the Declaration "the first outbreak of the contagion of sovereignty that swept the world in the centuries since 1776," Over the next century, the American Declaration would inspire more than 100 similar declarations in nations across the globe.
Happy 239th birthday!
The History channel has this short video about the Declaration’s writing:
Update: California beach goers don’t know why they’re celebrating: