Lesson 4: The Declaration of Independence

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When in the Course of human events…

The Four Principles That Anchor the Declaration of Independence

  1. Rights come from God.
  2. The purpose of civil government is to secure those rights.
  3. The power of civil government is given by the consent of the governed, each of whom is fully entitled to rule.
  4. The right to govern is forfeited by a tyrant to lower civil magistrates in order to restore the rule of law.

Title

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

Jefferson’s “original draft”

A Declaration of the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in General Congress assembled.

(Note: I am only providing those differences I found most interesting or compelling)

Websters 1828 Dictionary

Declaration: An affirmation; an open expression of facts or opinions; verbal utterance;   A public annunciation; proclamation; as the declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.
State:  A political body, or body politic; the whole body of people united under one government, whatever may be the form of the government.  The bodies that constitute the legislature of a country; as the states general.

Discussion:

To understand this and the rest of the Declaration of Independence you need to know a little of the writing style of the day.  First notice that the word Declaration is capitalized.  This was for emphasis.  Also note how united is not, but States and America are.  At that time, the United States of America was not as it is now.  Prior to the civil war, people would refer to “these united States are”, after the civil war and the question of whether or not a State could legally leave the union, of our nation it was said “The United States is”.  Do you notice the difference?  Prior to the civil war, much more emphasis was give to the States as sovereign, afterwords, the emphasis was on the Federal system of Government.  While we tend to forget or play down the sovereignty, as you will see in the next section, this was significant, it will play a significant role in the Constitutional Convention, and has never been receded, not even with the Civil War.

Preamble

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.

Jefferson’s “original Draft”
advance from that subordination in which they have hitherto remained,

the equal & independant station change.

The term “laws of nature” was a well-known common law term which was the will of God revealed in nature and was composed of all the “immutable laws of human nature  (Blackstone,Commentaries on the Laws of England).

Websters 1828 Dictionary

Course:  A passing or process; the progress of any thing; as the course of an argument, or of a debate; a course of thought or reflexion.
Band: Figuratively, any chain; any means of restraint; that which draws or confines.  Means of union or connection between persons; as, Hymen’s bands.

Discussion:

Here we see Jefferson setting up the argument that is about to be made and the authority under which it is to occur.  In the first, the argument for separation for Great Britain, and for the second, they would look to Natures Laws and Natures God for the authority to take such a drastic action.  Recall, these kinds of offenses had been reoccurring throughout British history.  And in every other case, the cause was put to the King at the point of the sword and reconciliation reached, only to have it occur again. This time would be different.  Driven my the new modes of thinking, the Founding Fathers would branch out on a new course, one that did not include subjection to a foreign body or even a King.

The Declaration of Natural Rights

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,

Jefferson’s “original Draft”

sacred & undeniable

from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable,

ends

Websters 1828 Dictionary

Self-evident:   Evident without proof or reasoning; that produces certainty or clear conviction upon a bare presentation to the mind; as a self-evident propostion or truth. That two and three make five, is self-evident.
Endowed: Furnished with a portion of estate; having dower settled on; supplied with a permanent fund; indued.
Unalienable:  Not alienable; that cannot be alienated; that may not be transferred; as unalienable rights.

Discussion:

Of this section two things really stand out.  First is once again they point to Divinity for the source of this, but not just this right to separate, but all unalienable rights.  The Bible declares God to be the Creator (Is. 40:28; 1 Pet. 4:19; Gen. 1:1, 27).  This is another in a long list of examples showing how, and in what ways America is a Covenant country.

The Second is the use of the word Endowed.  Jefferson’s early draft of the Declaration had the word derived. Benjamin Franklin and John Adams replaced that with the phrase endowed by their creator. By replacing derived with endowed by their Creator, the Declaration rested upon rights as God had given them, not as man understood them to be. Thus, America’s founders chose to establish the new nation upon the laws of nature and of nature’s God, not upon man’s law.

Look again at the Websters 1828 Dictionary.  The use of the word Endowed vs. simply derived, using the meaning most familiar at this time has them claiming that our rights are furnished with a portion of estate.  A portion from where?  “by their Creator”.  Combine that with the definition of Unalienable and you end up with rights, furnished as a portion of a Godly estate, that cannot be transferred.  You cannot give those rights away, the Creator himself has infused those rights into your soul!  What are these rights, well first, they do not limit them, but among them are Life Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  Not the guarantee of happiness, merely the right to peruse happiness, so long as it does not interfere with others unalienable rights.

But why go to this much effort to express this?  It is to this end that they were Declaring Independence.  That they may secure the gifts of Liberty to themselves and their prosperity.

What God has given for the benefit of all mankind cannot be given away by the recipient or taken away by the donor
(Numb. 23:19; 2 Chron. 19:7).


 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. 

Websters 1828 Dictionary

Self-evident:   Evident without proof or reasoning; that produces certainty or clear conviction upon a bare presentation to the mind; as a self-evident propostion or truth. That two and three make five, is self-evident.
Endowed: Furnished with a portion of estate; having dower settled on; supplied with a permanent fund; indued.
Unalienable:  Not alienable; that cannot be alienated; that may not be transferred; as unalienable rights.

Discussion:

Calvin’s development of the doctrine of resistance to wicked authorities,was further developed and spread by his own Calvinist followers this was to be one of his most powerful legacies for the history of liberty in the modern Western world.

In 1579, the Huguenots were the first to apply Calvin’s exegetical defense to a real-life situation as they challenged the claim of absolute rule by the royalists of France. They issued the famous “Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos” (A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants).  These principles were picked up and used by John Knox in Scotland and then later by Rutherford in his book Lex Rex in 1644.  Forty years later, these ideas bore fruit in England as a group of Tories and Whigs asked William of Orange for help in restoring English liberties from the absolutism of James II (1685-1689).  Later John Adams attested that Vindicae was on eo fthe most important volumes circulating in pre-revolutionary America.  Add to this the influence of John Locke and his Second Treatise on Civil Government in 1690, and the evidence is overwhelming that the Declaration’s justification for the War for Independence was the Christian doctrine of interposition by lesser magistrates.

BISHOP JOSEPH MATTERA.


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.  –Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

Jefferson’s “original Draft”
but when a long train of abuses & usurpations, begun at a distinguished period, & pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to subject them to arbitrary power,

expunge
majesty, is a history of unremitting injuries and usurpations,
among which no one fact stands single or solitary to contradict the uniform tenor of the rest, all

Websters 1828 Dictionary

Transient:   Passing; not stationary; hence, of short duration; not permanent; not lasting or durable. How transient are the pleasures of this life!
Usurpation: The act of seizing or occupying and enjoying the property of another, without right; as the usurpation of a throne; the usurpation of the supreme power.
Despotism:  Absolute power; authority unlimited and uncontrolled by men, constitution or laws, and depending alone on the will of the prince; as the despotism of a Turkish sultan.

Tyranny:  Arbitrary or despotic exercise of power; the exercise of power over subjects and others with a rigor not authorized by law or justice, or not requisite for the purposes of government. Hence tyranny is often synonymous with cruelty and oppression.  Absolute monarchy cruelly administered.
Candid: Fair; open; frank; ingenuous; free from undue bias; disposed to think and judge according to truth and justice, or without partiality or prejudice; applied to persons.

Discussion:

In his plea to fellow nations, Jefferson lays out the cause that only under those conditions which push a man beyond what he is able to endure, does he seek this course of action.  A case that he will shortly make by outlining the history of abuses laid down by the King.  He is also referencing the 700 year history of the British Monarchy and their repetitive nature to abuse those powers loaned them by the original Anglo Saxons.

The List of Grievances

To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has… 

refused his Assent to Laws
forbidden the passing of Laws of pressing importance
refused to pass Laws, unless people relinquish the Representation
called legislative bodies at places unusual places, to  fatiguing them into compliance
dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly
refused to cause others to be elected;
endeavoured to obstruct the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners;
refused his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for payment of their salaries.
sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of
death, desolation and tyranny,
already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy
scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages,
and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country,
to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren,
or to fall themselves by their Hands.
excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages

The Efforts to Appeal

To the King

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.

To Parliament and fellow British Citizens

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.
Therefore…
We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

Conclusion

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies,
solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States,they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, 

Websters 1828 Dictionary

Rectitude:  In morality, rightness of principle or practice; uprightness of mind; exact conformity to truth, or to the rules prescribed for moral conduct, either by divine or human laws.

Providence:  In theology, the care and superintendence which God exercises over his creatures


we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Discussion:

Congress finally approved the resolution of independence on July 2, 1776. Congress next turned its attention to a formal explanation of this decision, the United States Declaration of Independence, which was approved on July 4 and published soon thereafter.

Nineteenth-century Spanish statesman Emilio Castelar traced America’s source to one book: the Bible. In 1892, the Supreme Court unanimously concluded without qualification that “this is a Christian nation.”

Yet on November 17, 1992, 100 years later, Gov. Kirk Fordice ran into much opposition when he voiced the same opinion. The popular assumption today is that the U.S. is a pluralist nation inspired by the best human reason from 18th-century Enlightenment—not by the political ideas anchored in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.

Midnight Rider

Served a mission in Ukraine for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In collage, served in the Guard as a Russian Linguist; deployed in ’03 to Iraq. Founded a Tea Party, have been a PCP and vice-chairman of a local republican party. Active in the BSA, Freedom First Society & home-schooling. Husband & father.

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