Self-evident, immutable, eternal.
The now citizens of the United States of America were not just severing ties with their colonial British past, nor were they simply forming a new government. The foundation laid by the Declaration of Independence articulated truths that had never been used as the foundation of any actual government. “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.”
These rights are comprehensive in the lives of men and women, though it is important to note that the document says “among these rights,” which suggests that this list is not exhaustive. That such rights exist is a matter of self-evident truth—that is, the truth of the thing is contained within the definition of the thing. To acknowledge that there is such a thing as “man,” created by God and not himself a god, is to acknowledge his equality to every other creature that can be called “man”—and that goes for females, too. Man, as in mankind, meant that in their essential dignity and nature as beings, created by God, they are beings who are by nature also created equal.
The mere assertion that a sovereign people have inalienable rights is not sufficient, however, because government is always required to secure those rights. A right can exist without people acknowledging it. For rights to be actualized, action is required and the authors of the Declaration were very clear about what kind of action they meant.
The relationship between the citizens and the government is made clear by Adams: “by the affirmation that the principal natural rights of mankind are unalienable, it placed them beyond the reach of organized human power.” This reinforces the idea that government is meant to secure rights rather than grant them, and also the notion that the people themselves, rather than the government, are sovereign.
Just to drive the point home:
Related to the revelation that our natural rights come from God, is that by that same virtue they pre-exist government—whether a republic, democracy, monarchy, or tyranny. This is an important distinction. By listing our rights before mentioning the existence of any sort of state, the Declaration makes it clear that government is not the source of those rights.
Any rights granted by the state, no matter how holy, benevolent or well-intentioned the officeholders, can be taken away in an instant. Rights that come from Nature and Nature’s God, however, are permanent, intransigent, and emphatically unalienable. Contrary to the opinions of many modern politicians, the Declaration makes it clear that the American experiment is fundamentally grounded on the principle that free and independent people get to tell the government what to do—not the other way around.
As Randy E. Barnett has put it, the founding documents of the United States paint a picture of tiny islands of government power awash in a vast sea of liberty. Today, we’ve inverted that ideal to our grave detriment. Too often our present political landscape resembles a parched, vast expanse of government power marked by disappearing oases of liberty. We must do all that we can to reverse this course. It begins with the recognition that our rights come first—government comes second.
Indeed. It’s more than dismaying to ponder how far we’ve strayed from the ideals spelled out in those Founding documents that some of us—with the best of intentions, mind—now blame our Constitution itself as inherently flawed because of OUR failure to uphold it. Sorry, but I just can’t buy that. Those concepts, along with the words in which the Declaration and Constitution express them, are as close to flawless as we mere mortals can come. Their wisdom, their unassailable logic, represent a mighty work wrought by men of truly formidable intellect and good character. There has simply never been anything like them; mankind waited a damned long time for them to come along, and it seems unlikely that they will ever be surpassed, or even equalled.
Read the Declaration again, carefully and attentively, and then ask yourself: who could possibly find fault with even a single word? Who could fail to hear the essential truth of them, or to be stirred by their resonance to both awe and pride? Maybe most important: what kind of person could wish to see those beautiful words rejected, ignored, or supplanted? What could such a one’s real motivation for spurning them be?
That We the People, over generations, have proven unworthy of the towering gift granted us does not absolve of us of our duty to be humbly grateful for it nonetheless. And it’s never too late for us to rediscover our birthright, and to rededicate ourselves to the struggle to reclaim it. Aesop has it straight:
Not all progress has been positive, and what made it easier for you to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific has also made it far too easy for government to spread like a malignant cancer, and intrude its big nose and ravenous maw into everything in your life, every purchase or sale you make, and everything you do, including what lightbulb snaps on when you flip a switch, or what type of toilet you may now flush.
Blacks are no longer slaves on Southern plantations. Instead we all are, working annually the equivalent of January to June just to satisfy the recockulous demands on our labors and wealth made by actual armies of local, county, state, and federal versions of the cancer. (No small part of it paid in protection money as welfare, to keep the shiftless descendants of slaves from rioting from coast to coast, for those who aren’t already enjoying extended government room and board of an entirely different type, in the local grey bar motel.)
This, none of it, was surely not what the Founders intended, for anyone. And yet, here we are.
So as you enjoy your God-given rights today to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, baseball double-headers, hot dogs, and sales on automobiles and big screen TVs, coupled hopefully with a spectacular fireworks show in honor of that liberty, ponder what you’ve lost, how you might get some of it back, and what you’ll do to instill the desire for liberty to your offspring, and succeeding generations, that they might have more than the shadow of freedom we presently find allotted to us.
It’s a tradition as American as fireworks and picnics today, and far healthier to the republic than getting a new big screen TV. We are a race of malcontents, thrown out of every civilized country, and dumped here to tame a continent. Anyone whose natural recourse is to run to the government every waking minute ought to be viewed with innate suspicion and reviled with undisguised loathing. And gifted with no small amount of rotten fruit and eggs at whatever speed your arm can manage. (Including, at last count, 21 Democrat candidates for president next November.) Imagine the salutary effect on the republic if their motorcades were thusly pelted from city to city unceasingly for the next 16 months.
Indeed. Wretched, treacherous scoundrels such as the 27 Dwarves—arrogant enough, audacious enough, to assert that their petulant, juvenile complaints, demands, and degeneracy should be given precedence over our Founding principles—should be unable to so much as venture outside their front door without fear for their safety; that fear ought to be fully justified too, and constantly bolstered by constant scorn and hostility from those they dare presume to rule. Ridicule, harrassment, being pelted with rotten fruit and/or dead rats: these things of right ought to be the very least of their worries.