Remembering What the Declaration of Independence is Not

When we celebrate the Fourth of July, we are celebrating one of the most important political documents in the history of the world.  The Declaration is a statement to the world -- the people of the world was the audience -- about the very nature of government and its relationship to men.  Sometimes we appreciate what this document was, but perhaps we need even more to appreciate what it was not.

It was not a poll-driven summation of current opinion.  The men who gathered in Philadelphia did respect each other's talents and knowledge, but the document they signed was not not driven by the latest Gallup or Zogby poll results.  What was right and true was not dependent upon popular opinion.

The signers did not even seek a vote of the people.  No referendum was necessary for the Declaration of Independence and it might well have failed in some of the colonies.  The "will of the people," so precious to demagogues, did not determine what was right and true.  The people can fall for Hitler, adore Obama, and be enchanted by silly or wicked men.  The purpose of government, as the Declaration clearly states, is to secure liberty and not to implement that dubious, inconstant sentiment "the will of the people."

The men who signed the Declaration of Independence represented the absolute opposite of "interest group politics" so slavishly worshipped in political science departments.  They pledged their lives, their wealth, their liberty, and their honor -- everything -- on a toss of the dice.  Often, even if the revolution won, these men personally lost.  The game was not about them, their economic interest, or their political ambition.  They won if America became a new order of liberty in the world.  Interest politics would have led them all to make peace with the Crown.  Moral principles led them to what Churchill would later call "blood, toil, sweat, and tears."

The brave men in Philadelphia were engaging in unconstitutional action.  Britain had a constitution, albeit a largely unwritten one, and Jefferson knew that he was defying our equivalent of the Supreme Court.  He and his colleagues defied the moral power of a system which no longer treasured liberty above advantage or caprice.  Rulers making decisions which did not really affect them, living thousands of miles from their subjects, lacked the moral authority to wield law.

Moral authority was the heart of the Declaration as well.  It lacked a separation of church and state and instead there was a unity of God and government.  All men were created equal by God.  That is the foundational point of the Declaration from which all else flows like the spring of liberty.   If all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, politics is clear and simple.  If that is true, then -- of course! -- protecting these inalienable rights is the only reason that governments are instituted among men.  These were truths which, in the magical pen of Jefferson, the brave authors and signers held to be "self-evident."  There is a Creator.  He made us.  He made us, specifically, free in body and in conscience.   We are not sheep or some sort of oddly self-domesticated animals.  We are creatures in the image of a Creator, unique in reality, and given the power to choose. 

The men who wrote and signed the Declaration are all dead, long, long, dead -- they never expected otherwise.  If we met their ghosts today, they would not ask about our technological marvels or our global economy or our medical breakthroughs or space travel.  If we told them about our partisan debates or the new King in Washington, they might cringe like a father over an addled child. 

But when speaking of what they wrote in 1776 -- signing their own death warrants, in some respects -- they might ask us this:  "We did not mean to confuse you.  That is why the words we chose were so clear.  You are free creatures of God.  Government is your creature, your chattel, your tool -- nothing more.  We studied history long before we wrote our brief statement of liberty.  You own government or rather the spirit of free men owns government.   You fret about ‘stuff.' Why?  We are all dead now, as we knew we would be.  But we chose to die free, following our consciences - that is the only real choice in life.  What confused you?"   The principle of liberty is easy.  All it requires is courage and honor.

Bruce Walker is the author of two books:  Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie, and his recently published book, The Swastika against the Cross: The Nazi War on Christianity.
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