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… — Preamble to the US Declaration of Independence
The central gripe aired in the Declaration of Independence was that the British Parliament and King George were doing a crummy job governing the American colonies. Since you can’t vote a Monarch out of office, the only recourse left to Americans was to “dissolve the political bands which [had] connected them” to Great Britain.
Thus, the War of Independence was fought because a free people wanted to be governed justly, responsibly, and in a manner that served their best interests and expressed wishes. The Declaration of Independence says that a government’s raison d’être is to safeguard the rights of the governed, and that it “derives [its] just powers from the consent of the governed.”
This is Enlightenment thinking at its best. The American experiment created a government whose principle role was not to serve or preserve itself, but to secure the individual rights and liberty of its citizens.
Our government has become morbidly obese since 1776. At times it seems to have lost sight of that original vision and seems preoccupied with its own interests. Politicians are increasingly drawn to politics because of the perquisites of office instead of the privilege of service. As in the days of King George, government has become increasingly burdensome, and at times seems deaf to the complaints of its citizens.
But as the Declaration wisely points out, “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
We grouse, we complain, we suffer under an increasing weight of high taxes, onerous regulation and unfair treatment by the very government that is supposed to secure our rights. We vote, but little changes.
In such a climate, it would be easy to grow discouraged about the American experiment. But despite legitimate grievances, we must admit that we are blessed by unprecedented freedom and prosperity at a time when many around the world live in fear, often under the thumb of cruel despots. The dream of America is still pure enough to draw thousands of immigrants every year, and few who think seriously about what America means want to live anyplace else.
233 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, America is still a place where its unalienable rights are enjoyed by all.
The American experiment continues and flourishes. May God bless and protect this remarkable Republic, her citizens, and our elected leaders.
Photo credit: Eileen Herrling