Our Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence was one of the documents that started it all for those libertarian minded individuals in the colonies that were tired of an oppressive government. It was just a single page, but what a page it was - and still is.

It was a bold move on the part of the colonies, and it was necessary for many reasons. Not only were there abuses that needed to be addressed, but there were many "sitting on the fence," and the declaration was intended to get them off of it and on one side or the other.

The declaration was made on the 4th of July, 1776. That's why we celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks. Not only is it exciting and entertaining, but the fireworks resemble some of the effects of bombs and rockets associated with the revolutionary war.

Many of us enjoy the 4th of July celebrations and picnics, but too few are keenly aware of what our Declaration of Independence meant at the time, and still means today.

The Declaration of Independence was much more than just a note to King George telling him that we weren't his subjects anymore. It was really a foundational document for our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Let's look at key portions of the document and discuss what it means. Selected portions of the Declaration of Independence are discussed below. The quotes are in brown, and my comments follow each of the passages.

Freedom in our Sights

The following quotes from the Declaration of Independence set the tone for the rest of this historic document. They also set the stage for the new Constitution that would frame the representative form of government with an emphasis on natural rights.

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.

In this introductory portion of the Declaration of Independence, we clearly see a reference to natural laws. The idea here is that there are ways of doing things that exist in the natural world that we must recognize and comply with. Laws that universally apply to all humankind.

This is a key concept because many of our civil rights are based on the notion of natural law. As an example, the right to keep and bear arms is based on the natural law of self-defense. Any animal, humans included, have a right to defend themselves against aggressors.

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...it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

This portion of the Declaration of Independence is perhaps one of the most cherished by libertarian minded individuals. It is a bombshell of truths and concepts, and indeed prophetic. Let's look at what it has to say.

  • First off, the substance of this paragraph is held up as truth, not opinion or assumption, but reality staring us in the face. Moreover, the truths are self-evident. In other words, we don't need to prove them; they stand on their own quite naturally.

    Again, this is an "echo" of the concept of natural law - the way things are, all by themselves, or at least ought to be.

  • Next, the idea is set forth that all are created equal at birth with unalienable rights. The core rights identified are the right to live free, and have a self-managed life that appeals to the individual.

    This is very powerful because it is clearly consistent with libertarian thinking that establishes you as the owner and manager of yourself and your affairs. Again, it resonates with the idea of a natural law of how we ought to behave.

    (A glaring inconsistency with this concept was slavery, wherein one person owned another as a slave and required the slave to serve the owner's interest against their own will. The principal of being born equal eventually won out in the long run, due in part to this guiding principle, and slavery was outlawed.)

  • Another of the key libertarian ideals expressed in this part of the Declaration of Independence is the right to pursue happiness. The concept being that your happiness isn't guaranteed except to the extent that you work toward that end. Moreover, we get a clear message of freedom of choice here. You are at liberty to choose how to live your life in order to be happy.

  • The next concept set forth here is also pivotal with respect to individual liberty. The concept is that government exists, not for it's own purpose, but to secure our rights. In other words, the job of government is to make certain these self-evident and unalienable rights are protected from encroachment.

  • And, last but not least, perhaps the most important concept of the Declaration of Independence is that government gets its authority from the governed, not from themselves or some other source. Government is therefore a product of the people, subject to the people's will, and it is established, modified or abolished as the people see fit to secure their good fortune.
So, this part of the Declaration of Independence really establishes the fundamental principle that individuals naturally come first, and government is but an instrument devised by the people to make certain their natural rights are protected.

The last phrase of this section of the Declaration of Independence speaks to new guards of future security. This portends that specifics in the document will serve as catalysts for the way things will be structured in the future. Indeed, many of the offenses presented are "direct feeds" for portions of the constitution yet to be developed.

Representation in Government

The following passages speak clearly to the need for people to be represented in their own government. This of course is a natural extension of the idea that the people formed the government for their own benefit and therefore it should serve their needs.

These quotes are part of a list of offenses which serve as part of the justification for breaking with England.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

Here we see the fundamental principle that people have a right to be represented in the government. This is unmistakable. Indeed, it is declared to be a right of such value that it can't be estimated, and a right that only those desiring complete control would ever object to.

Our representative form of government, with a House and Senate, is set forth in the Constitution as an attempt to put in place reasonable safeguards against a minority of people directing the affairs of the nation.

This same form of government is seen at the state level in every state in the union, and is a common approach to county and local government.

Rights Belong to the People

Rights are one of the fundamentals that set free people apart from those that aren't so free. It is the distinction we recognize between a citizens and subjects. In America we enjoy natural rights as well as civil rights, and most of these aren't set forth in written law.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

This portion of the Declaration of Independence again clearly sets forth the idea that people have rights; not the government or the state or the country, but the people. And, those people have multiple rights that need to be protected.

We recognize the rights of the people, specifically the rights of the individual. Our focus in America on individual rights is not unique, however, our focus on individualism sets us apart from many countries of the world where the group or community stands out as most important in the culture.

The Burden of Government

Wouldn't it be nice if we had less government burden? That's exactly what many were thinking back then in the 1770s in the American colonies. The following quote makes it clear there was a need to shake off the burden of government.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

This has to be one of the most colorful phrases in the Declaration of Independence. Here we have swarms of officers eating out the substance of the people. Despite what might appear today to be excessively colorful language, the idea is clear that the King of England was the cause of regulatory burden on the citizens, and heavy taxation.

Of course, regulation and taxation is something not unknown today with all the "kings" that we have in American politics. This burden has been allowed to creep into our lives in part because we are unfamiliar with where we all started. If only we would listen to what Thomas Jefferson said about freedom being easy to win but hard to keep.

Foundation for the Bill of Rights

The four quotes in this section are undoubtedly the origins of the 2nd and 3rd Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. And, why not? If these were things that were so troublesome to the colonist as to list them in the Declaration of Independence, then why wouldn't prohibitions against them be established as safeguards of liberty in the new Constitution? It seems perfectly logical.

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.

The 1st Amendment to the Constitution addresses the idea that people have the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. It doesn't mean that relief will be forthcoming, but it does give citizens the right to formally bellyache about how they think the government has wronged them.

This concept of petitioning the government goes hand-in-hand with another portion of the 1st Amendment which guarantees the right of free speech. Of course, we aren't just talking about speaking with our neighbor, we're talking about political free speech.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislatures.

This concern is remedied by the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, the right to keep and bear arms. A great concern of the day was a standing army that could overpower the colonists. It's the old "might makes right" concept. So, the citizens of the new nation wanted to make certain they had the might to resist an oppressive government.

And, more importantly, there would be no reason to have a standing army in times of peace because it would be unnecessary. Each citizen, after all, would have the right to arms for defense, and a militia (an armed citizenry, non-professional soldiers) is also called for here in the 2nd Amendment as well as many other places throughout the Constitution.

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

This offense is corrected in the new Constitution by the 3rd Amendment, the prohibition of keeping soldiers in private homes without the owner's consent.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

These grievances are corrected by the 6th Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees that we will enjoy the right to a trial by jury, and we will have the trial take place in the state and district where the offense was committed.

It is with great satisfaction that we can tie parts of the Bill of Rights directly to the Declaration of Independence, for it shows that the founders were willing to take a dose of their own medicine and build in safeguards against the very oppression that they found offensive.

Enterprise and Trade

Important libertarian ideals include free enterprise and free trade. These did not go unnoticed in the Declaration of Independence. A key economic element for any society is to have free trade with their neighbors. Apparently the King of England was getting in the way.

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

Whether it's goods or services, the idea of trade is ancient and basic to every culture. It is foundational to creating wealth and abundance, and it facilitates relations with others. Even people in armed conflict with one another still engage in trade, recognizing that it is in their best interest.

If trade with others is cut off, it essentially makes the enterprise (that creates the goods for trade) obsolete, especially if the goods are created for trade with the people of another country.

Although not listed specifically in the Declaration of Independence, you have the right to the fruits of your labor (enterprise), and if you are denied the fruits of your labor, such as not being able to trade with others, then you are effectively enslaved by those that deny you the ability to trade.

And, Now a Free Country

Although freedom rarely comes with the stroke of a pen, we can see the resolve of the original signers in this last portion of the Declaration of Independence. Here, the founders are boldly proclaiming their independence, and they are leaving it to the world to decide whether their cause is just.

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, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

This last line of the Declaration of Independence is the one that gets to me every time. Here we have a group of men representing all the colonies, and they are pledging to one another their very lives and their futures, and they are honoring each other and their new country by doing so.

The idea of "sacred honor" has long been lost in American politics. It perhaps was last seen in the Declaration of Independence. It's rare if indeed you can find it today. That's why I am proud to be a Libertarian. I believe in the honor of doing what is right.

I also believe in honoring our founders and their vision for America, and I'm willing to fight to get us headed back in the direction of our roots of freedom, limited government, individual rights, free enterprise and justice.

Let's not let this Declaration of Independence become meaningless, let's breathe new life back into American politics by putting this document front and center with our federal and state constitutions. The libertarian minded among us should seek to honor our founders by acting to preserve our precious freedoms for future generations.

Done with Declaration of Independence, take me Home

Help others defend their natural human rights, even when none of yours are at risk. It's just a matter of time before government turns its focus on you. It's then you'll need others to return the favor and support the rights that you hold dear.

Nothing in human history has shown itself to promote success like freedom. Yet, liberty is under fire on a daily basis from those who desire to be your lord and master.

It takes courage to be free, and far greater courage to allow others to be free. May you have that far greater courage.