Declaration of Independence

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.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why They Matter

                    The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution can be read in just a few minutes.  They are simple, easy to understand and easy to remember.  The question that needs to be answered for this Freedom Friday is:  Why do they matter? 

                    The first thing that we must understand about these two great documents is that they support each other.  "… If the principles and argument of the Declaration are true, the arrangements and argument of the Constitution are true, and vice versa."  (See Larry P. Arnn, Imprimis, December 2011.)    Liberals/Progressives are opposed to the Declaration and the Constitution because these documents stand in the way of what they consider to be "progress."  
                    Arnn explained that there are "three incredible things to keep in mind about the Declaration:  First, there had never been anything like it in history…. 
"Second, look at the end of the Declaration.  Its signers were being hunted by British troops.  General Gage had an order to find and detain them as traitors.  And here they were putting their names on a revolutionary document and sending it to the King…. `we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.'  That is how people talk on a battlefield when they are ready to die for each other.
"The third thing about the Declaration is even more extraordinary in light of the first two:  It opens by speaking of universal principles.  It does not portray the Founding era as unique - `When in the Course of human events' means any time - or portray the Founding generation as special or grand - `it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another' means any people.  The Declaration is thus an act of obedience - an act of obedience to a law that persists beyond the English law and beyond any law that the Founders themselves might make.  It is an act of obedience to the `Laws of Nature and of Nature's God,' and to certain self-evident principles - above all the principle `that all men are created equal' with `certain unalienable Rights.'
"For the signers to be placing their lives at risk, and to be doing so while overturning a way of organizing society that had dominated for two thousand years, and yet for them to begin the Declaration in such a humble way, is very grand."

Arnn continued to explain why modern historians are wrong in their belief that "the Founders changed their minds about the principles in the Declaration" when they wrote the Constitution.  "The Constitution contains three fundamental arrangements:  representation, which is the direct or indirect basis of the three branches of government described in the first three articles of the Constitution; separation of powers, as embodied in those three branches; and limited government, which is obvious in the Constitution's doctrine of enumerated powers - there is a list of things that Congress can do in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution, and the things that are not listed it may not do.  And all three of these fundamental arrangements, far from representing a break with the Declaration, are commanded by it."

Arnn also explained why "Woodrow Wilson and the founders of modern liberalism" are "wrong" about the "doctrines of limited government that appear in the Declaration and the Constitution" being "obsolete." 
"The first thing he got wrong was looking back on earlier America as a simple age.  There was nothing simple about it.  The Founders had to fight a war against the largest force on earth.  They had to figure out how to found a government based on a set of principles that had never formed the basis of a government.  The original Congress was called the Continental Congress, although no one would understand the extent of the continent until Lewis and Clark reported to President Jefferson in 1806.  They had to figure out a way for the first free government in history to grow across that continent.  These things took vast acts of imagination.  And this is not even to mention the crisis of slavery and the Civil War.  So the idea that the complications of the late 19th century [as well as the 20th and 21st centuries] were something new, or were greater by some order of magnitude, is bunkum.
"The second mistake Wilson makes is fundamental, and goes to the core of the American idea.  Wilson [and Obama] is opposed to the structure imposed on the government by the Constitution - for instance, the separation of powers - because it impedes what he calls progress.  But what idea was behind that structure?  James Madison writes in Federalist 51:  `[W]hat is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?  If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.'
"In other words, human nature is such that human beings need to be governed.  We need government if we are not to descend into anarchy.  But since human beings will make up the government, government itself must be limited or it will become tyrannical.  Just as we outside the government require to be governed, those inside the government require to be governed.  And that has to be strictly arranged because those inside the government need, and they will have, a lot of power.
"Against this way of thinking, Wilson argued that progress and evolution had brought human beings to a place and time where we didn't have to worry about limited government.  He rejected what the Founders identified as a fixed or unchanging human nature, and thought we should be governed by an elite class of people who are not subject to political forces or constitutional checks and balances - a class of people such as we find in our modern bureaucracy.  This form of government would operate above politics, acting impartially in accordance with reason."

Arnn asks the reader to "Look at our government today.  Is the bureaucracy politically impartial?  Is it efficient and rational, as if staffed by angels?  Or is it politically motivated and massively self-interested?"  The article is seven pages long and very interesting.  I found the entire article here.  

Larry P. Arnn is the president of Hillsdale College, a private institution that does not accept any public money.  It has been "Pursuing Truth" and "Defending Liberty since 1844."  Imprimis is its monthly publication and always very interesting.  I encourage you to sign up for this publication.

Hillsdale College requires all its students to "complete a one-semester course on the United States Constitution as part of their core requirements."  They are now offering "all citizens" "the opportunity to study with the same Hillsdale professors."  A 10-week online course entitled "Constitution 101 "The Meaning and History of the Constitution" begins February 20, 2012.  You can register for this course with no charge here.  

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