Independence Day is a good time to revisit the foundations of our political order, especially given the long record of Barack Obama and the Democrats’ disregard for the Constitution. The members of the Continental Congress who met in Philadelphia in July 1776 sought their independence from England in order to recover their rights that had been violated by a tyrant, and to establish political freedom and autonomy so that those rights could be protected from further erosion. For a century now the Progressive ideology has insidiously undermined that legacy of autonomy in a slow-motion revolution that aims to “fundamentally transform America.”
The Declaration of Independence contains a statement of principles that justify the indictment of George III that makes up the bulk of the document. The principles are straightforward: “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.” The key point is that rights are not the gifts of men, for such rights can be taken back by the same power that bestows them. Rather, they are the defining elements of human nature bestowed by the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Individual autonomy is the birthright of all, and can be limited only by the consent of the people, who establish collective power residing in government for specific, limited purposes, and they can take that power back when government exceeds those legitimate purposes. A decade later the framers of the Constitution would enumerate these limited powers and institutionalize the purposes for which they can be used. Thus the significance of the Declaration must be found in the political order created a decade later to institutionalize the principles of 1776.