The Declaration of Independence: How One Locke and Two Tom’s along with a little help from Natures God created Inspiration
The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important documents in the history of the United States. The Declaration set the standard for the argument for freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, many do not know what it really states or how important it was for the independence of America. There are those on both sides of the political and religious divide that want to use the Declaration for their own desires. In doing this, they completely misinterpret the point of the Declaration and distort its real meaning. Despite what some may say, religion was not the basis for the Declaration but a philosophy that was created during the Age of Enlightenment was the catalyst for the writing of the Declaration and the basis for its message.
To truly understand the Declaration it is important to understand the first two paragraphs as these set the table for the argument of independence not just for the colonies but all mankind. The beginning of the Declaration of Independence is:
“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.”
The Declaration of Independence was written for one purpose, to proclaim the independence of the American colonies from England. The beauty of the Declaration lies not on religious or political arguments but on transcendent universal principles.
The Declaration is based on the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment that pushed forth the idea that Reason could be the guiding force in all aspects of life including the political and religious. Reason has been falsely equated with only logic and rationalism but in truth also includes a balance with intuition and romanticism. A philosopher of this era named John Locke was very involved in using Reason to view the world. One of the ideas that he pushed forth was that God created the world based on natural laws (laws of nature) and processes and through these laws God governs the universe. He believed that God grants man liberty and freedom through these natural laws and they are universal. Essentially, no man has the right to take away another’s freedoms as these rights are granted by God. The idea that natural laws could confer liberty and freedom to all men and women was quite radical for the time. Theses controversial ideas would have a profound effect on the Founding Fathers and signers of the Declaration.
The American Revolution that we look back on seems to have occurred so effortlessly and made perfect sense for the reasons why it occurred. However, the fight for independence was actually hard fought not only on the battlefield but also in the legislature and in the hearts and minds of American colonists. While many argued for independence, there were equally as many that fought against it. Arguments for and against were very common and both sides had their reasons. The situation did not seem to be improving and most of the arguments made by the colonists failed. One of the primary arguments was based on the colonies legal standing for independence. Under British law the colonies had no right to separation. The colonists could not use the argument of Biblical law as the King could claim that he was ordained by Biblical law and had every right to control the colonies as he saw fit. The situation did not improve until a man named Thomas Paine was brought to America by Benjamin Franklin and wrote a pamphlet that was destined for greatest, the pamphlet was called Common Sense.
Thomas Paine was from England and was not famous in any sense of the term. He held no special titles and had no special education. However, his writing style and arguments held particular sway for the common man in England and Franklin hoped that this style would not only inspire the elite but the common in America as well. Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense and it ignited a firestorm. Paine based his argument for independence on the belief that all men were born with natural rights based on the natural law that was created by God. That all men should be treated as equals and that no one had the right to control based on monarchy. He attacked the King and parliament as having no right over the colonies as these were free men who had God-given freedom that was not being afforded to them.
Common Sense started a wave of talk for independence and it roared forward from there. Soon, the majority of Americans had a desire for independence based on his arguments and wanted their representatives to push for independence in their name. This was what the pro-independence believers needed and they ran with it. Eventually, the majority agreed upon independence and Thomas Jefferson was asked to write it. He wrote it over a two-week period and brought it to congress for evaluation and ratification. It was changed in some places but the essence and overall writing survived and was signed by many on that day. The brilliance of the Declaration came from how the argument was written.
The terms Natures God, laws of nature, Creator and unalienable rights were the cornerstones for its beauty and power. The Declaration transcends both legal and religious arguments and makes the case for freedom based not on law or religion but on universal principles that transcends religion and man-made laws. Essentially, all men and women are given their liberties and rights by the God of nature. There are many that want to fit the Declaration to their viewpoint. Regardless of the claims, it was never meant to be a religious document nor was it about setting an idea of absolute truth. The intention was to proclaim the right of the American colonies to separate from England and based this not on any religion but on the Creator of man. The Declaration is one of those rare documents that is not just for the people that were writing it but can be used by anyone or nation in a state where freedom is being denied. Instead of us trying to impose on the Declaration what we want, why not view it for what it is, a wonderful written and beautifully argued reason for why man deserves freedom and liberty.
Copyright © 2004 J Hardwick