There can be no question that the opening paragraph and subsequent preamble of the Declaration of Independence are among of the most beautifully crafted passages in the history of the English language. In just two hundred seventy three perfectly chosen words, Thomas Jefferson summarized volumes of books, hundreds of manuscripts and countless thousands of letters written about the rights of man in relation to secular authority.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
In its historical context, the Declaration of Independence was a stunningly novel conceit: it proposed that monarchic oligarchy – the established political order since the dawn of human civilization – was no longer valid or even relevant as a mechanism for governing the affairs of men. Henceforth, the consent of the governed – and not the pleasure of autocrats – would constitute the well from which government would draw the water of just power with which it governs.
The syllogism governing this thought process is nothing if not pure genius:
- There is a just and benevolent God who created the world and the human race;
- Although certain circumstances may give an appearance to the contrary, all humans are equal in the eyes of the Creator;
- Among the attributes granted to humans by their Creator are rights that are inherent to our nature as humans and therefore are unalienable – even if they are transgressed;
- The only force on earth capable of securing these unalienable rights – which include the right to life, the right to liberty and the right to pursue one’s happiness – is government;
- In order to secure these unalienable rights, governments must act with the consent of those to whom such rights have been granted;
- If government fails to secure these unalienable rights or, worse, attempts to transgress them, the governed have the right to change the government or abolish it entirely and establish in its place a new form of government that will secure their unalienable rights.
That sultry day in July marked a quantum leap in the evolution of human society and the birth of the most extraordinary and exceptional nation to have ever graced this planet since humans first gathered together to form a society.
And now I present to you the Declaration of Independence – read (as it should be) by one and only one individual. I really can’t stomach the contemporary trend that dominates Independence Day gatherings wherein diversity and inclusiveness rule the day and as many as two dozen “ordinary” citizens are called forth to read aloud from this hallowed document and, despite their best efforts, succeed only in mangling and garbling the text – rendering the whole effort an exercise in patience for an audience starved to hear what was heard over two centuries ago.