Therefore, the conditions under which these rights may be exercised cannot be contingent on the actions of government; they cannot be understood as imposing a set of positive commands on others. Radical natural-law theorists, and especially Locke, whose work formed the basis of the political philosophy contained in the Declaration, held that the ends of civil government limited the extent of political authority. When men consented to the creation of that authority, they transferred only those original rights as were necessary to achieve those specific ends.
The functions of governments are clearly stipulated. The end of government is neither to maximize happiness nor to ensure that men attain happiness, but to provide the framework in which each person may pursue his own happiness as he individually sees fit. It is no less a distortion of the philosophy underlying the Declaration to claim that when Jefferson stipulated a right to pursue happiness, his purpose was that of asserting a scientific law, that all men cannot help but pursue happiness.
Mason wrote:. All men are born equally free and independant, and have certain inherent Rights, of which they cannot, by any Compact, deprive or divest their Posterity; among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursuing and obtaining Happiness and Safety. Thus, Vernon L. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.
This sentiment epitomizes the philosophy that Jefferson had affirmed in the Declaration. Carl L. The critical portion of the preamble, as Jefferson originally wrote it, reads. Boyd has calculated that the Rough Draft, as finally submitted, contained forty-seven alterations. Some of these were of no importance, such as the deletion of a partially written word, while others were made for what appear to be purely stylistic purposes. In addition, Jefferson supplemented his bill of indictment against the Crown by appending three new charges.
This discussion of rights and the Declaration need not linger on the list of grievances, which constitutes the major portion of the Declaration.
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It should be noted, however, that the charges specified in the document were leveled not against the Parliament of Great Britain, but against the Crown. The American conception of the constitutional status of the colonies within the British empire viewed them as linked to Great Britain only in the sense that they acknowledged a common monarch. By mid, this view had become commonplace among Americans. There is a body of scholarly opinion that minimizes the centrality and importance of the Declaration and contends that the claims made by the American colonists in their controversies with Great Britain were consistently framed in the language of English rights and that arguments based on the authority of natural law were irrelevant to the debate.
Indeed, Reid himself offers several examples in which the colonial position is couched in terms that are unambiguously grounded on the law of nature. That those absolute rights we are entitled to as men, by the immutable Laws of Nature, are antecedent to all social and relative duties whatsoever. Finally, the language of the Declaration of Independence would seem to offer overwhelming evidence of the pervasiveness of the Lockean notion of rights among the colonists.
I have already indicated that the constraints of space prevent detailed discussion of the grievances contained in the Declaration. Sometime in late May or early June Jefferson had written a draft of a proposed constitution for Virginia, the preamble to which enumerated a series of injuries suffered by the colonies at the hands of the British Crown.
The Declaration of Independence: Independent Institute
The basic text of the Declaration contains eighteen grievances, one of which is divided into eight distinct counts, making twenty-five charges in all. Of these twenty were taken almost verbatim from the earlier document and, with two exceptions, appear in the same order. The sequence and language of the charges enumerated in the Declaration, Boyd observed, appear to leave no question that Jefferson had the text of his Preamble to the Virginia Constitution before him when he composed the grievances incorporated in the document. Before submitting the draft of the Declaration to Congress, Jefferson added three new charges against George III, among them a censure of the Quebec Act of , which extended the boundaries of Quebec to the Mississippi River in the west and southward to the Ohio River.
The act further provided that legislative authority in the province be vested solely in a royally appointed council and granted to the British Parliament the power to levy all but purely local taxes.
Finally, English civil law was abolished and the Anglican church disestablished. This pernicious act, restoring many of the laws and religious privileges earlier imposed by an openly autocratic regime on a territory that would henceforth constitute the largest area of North America, was regarded with particular loathing by the colonists, who saw in it a direct threat to their own political and civil institutions. At some point between the completion of his original text and submission of the draft of the Declaration to Congress, Jefferson added the following indictment of George III:.
He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain.
25 historical quotes about the Declaration of Independence, July Fourth and America
Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. Becker, among others, has suggested that there was something hypocritical in the charge, which, like the others, is couched in the form of an indictment of the Crown. But there is a complex of irrefragable evidence pointing to the complicity of the British government in perpetuating this satanic institution. Edward Dumbauld notes that on at least six occasions colonial acts imposing prohibitively high duties on the slave trade were disallowed by the king-in-council, thus permitting an unusually lucrative British market to flourish unhindered.
The excision of this charge by Congress cannot but have impoverished the document, just as the institution itself was to impoverish the republic until its bloody repudiation ninety years later. On 28 June, Jefferson and the other members of the committee reported the amended draft of the Declaration to Congress. Jefferson is known to have consulted with Adams and Franklin, both of whom had made minor revisions to the language of the document, after which the draft was submitted to the whole committee.
On 2 July the Congress, at the outset meeting in Committee of the Whole, adopted the Lee resolution, whereby the American colonies declared themselves to be free and independent states, absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown. The vote on the resolution would have been unanimous if the New York delegation had not felt compelled to abstain, having received no reply from the provincial congress to their earlier request for instructions.
On 1 July a preliminary vote showed only nine colonies prepared to support independence. Both South Carolina and Pennsylvania voted against the Lee resolution, New York abstained, and the two delegates from Delaware then present in Philadelphia were divided on the issue. By the next day, however, a dramatic shift had occurred. Thus, on 2 July, with twelve delegations voting in favor and one abstaining, the united colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and so became free states.
Following passage of the Lee resolution, the Congress immediately turned its attention to consideration of the Declaration, whose function was to justify the decision just reached. Inasmuch as the debate on the Declaration was undertaken by Congress again meeting in Committee of the Whole, the Rough and Corrected Journals are silent on the nature of the discussion that took place.
It is known that a number of alterations and deletions were made, many for purely stylistic purposes. Indeed, the view of government there affirmed was the product of legal and political principles embraced by all the revolutionaries, as it emerged in the writing of natural-rights theorists from Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf, through Locke and the other Whig radicals, to the continental writers inspired by Locke, particularly Jean Jacques Burlamaqui.
The Congress did not stop at minor revisions, however. As the author of the Declaration, Jefferson was naturally disheartened that Congress should have seen fit to use so heavy a hand in editing a document that had been framed with such care. He appears to have been particularly offended at the deletion of the paragraph on slavery and his indictment of the British public.
With respect to these excisions, he observed in his notes on the proceedings of Congress:. The pusillanimous idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with, still haunted the minds of many. For this reason those passages which conveyed censures on the people of England were struck out, lest they should give them offence. Jefferson was predictably convinced that his final draft was superior to the Declaration as Congress amended it, and he sent copies of the text as he submitted it to several friends, both while it was being altered by Congress and soon afterward. That a public body would reduce rather than increase the number of words in a political document is in itself a remarkable testimony to their sagacity and ability to express themselves.
Certainly the final paragraph, considered as parliamentary practice, as political principle, and as literature was greatly improved by the changes of Congress. On the evening of 4 July the Declaration, as amended, was reported by the Committee of the Whole and duly approved by the Congress without dissent. The conception of rights embraced by the American revolutionary theorists and reflected in the Declaration conceived of them as eternal and immutable, as antedating the establishment of all political authority, and as belonging to all men by virtue of their humanity alone.
The gradual erosion of this understanding of rights and its replacement with the view that individual rights conflict with one another and that their exercise requires that others be impelled to act in certain ways, entails a very different conception of government, one in which the political authority is required to intervene actively, both to mediate between the rights of citizens and to provide the means whereby certain rights can be realized. It is important, when examining the way rights were understood by the American revolutionaries that this second, more modern, and somewhat vulgar conception is not confused with the way the eighteenth century understood the term, as so often happens.
It condemned it, providing future Americans, as King attests, the moral compass by which to bring our practices better into line with the principle of human equality, which stands as the moral foundation of the Declaration and thus as the standard by which Americans have judged themselves ever since. The Supreme Court had spoken. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon.
The Declaration of Independence (1776) – Full Text
But today, many in our universities teach the historically and morally ill-founded view that equality can come only through rejecting our racist founding principles. Famed Lincoln analyst, the late Harry V. Jaffa, saw this coming as far back as Jaffa has proved prescient. Most Americans stopped reading the Declaration a long time ago. According to U. Lincoln foresaw the disastrous effects that would follow the failure to teach our founding principles to succeeding generations. He has 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 protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:. For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:.
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. He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
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He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He has 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. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
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.
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.