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[COMMENTARY by E. Fox:
The Declaration of Independence provides much of the religious and philosophical underpinning for the Constitution. The Constitution was not written in a philosophical or religious vacuum, it was written by overwhelmingly Christian leaders for a fundamentally Biblical populace. That is abundantly verified by any serious study of the 200 years of American political history prior to the Revolution.
It is said by secular folks that the Declaration was of little consequence, that the Constitution was the defining document for America. That is not true. The Constitution was written in the same spirit as the Declaration. (See Herb Titus's little book, The Constitution of the United States: A Christian Document.) It was written specifically to declare to the world the reason for the existence of the new nation. The reason for the existence of something is not just an other so-so. It lies right at the foundation of that entity. When God gives us the Law, He is telling us why He has created us. He is giving us our reason for existence. That is not a small matter. Reason for existence is the second of the two primal stabilities of any personal being or community -- the moral stability (he first being stability of being, ontological stability). God is the Sovereign over all things because He is the Creator of all things (see William Blackstone). The Declaration spells out to the world that we Americans have chosen God's purposes for our existence, not from some autocrat or oligarchy. It is a covenant between God, we, the people, and our civil government -- in that order of authority.
All political events are taken in the context of what legal scholars call "organic utterances", that is speeches and documents which provide the historical context in which political events take place. Without the organic utterances, law makers and law interpreters would have a difficult (if not impossible) time of interpreting the meaning of laws and constitutions written in a previous age. The Declaration is a fundamental "organic utterance" by which we can discern the intent of the founding fathers.
But it is more than an "organic utterance". It is a primary document giving the reason for the existence of the new nation.
The bottom foundation of morality is the ability of God to give us our "reason for existence". Only our creator can tell us why we exist because only He created us, i.e., gave us our existence. Being morally right therefore means lining up the reasons for our behavior, our purposes, with those of God for our existence, namely, the Decalogue and the two Great Commandments.
Our Declaration gave to the world abroad the reason we decided to have an existence independently of George III (not independently of Parliament - which is never mentioned). We were announcing the reason for our rebellion against the king who had granted the colonies their charters, and thus were announcing the reason for the existence of our new nation. Giving the reason for our nation was giving the moral justification for it, which means its relation to the purposes of God. We were seeking to justify the existence of our new nation in the eyes of the world. It meant that all law of the new nation would be conformed to the laws of God.
We thus justified this rebellion by choosing a government more in line with the purposes of God. The impact of the phrase, "...that to secure these rights Governments are instituted..." is often missed. It gives the primary reason why we have governments. We, the people, have them to secure our rights against the wrongful uses of coercive force. We do that by bringing coercive force under the law and grace of God. We are tying our rulers to that law and grace, defining the the limits beyond which the rulers may not go.
This lines up with Jesus' comment (Mark 2:27) that the law (of which the Sabbath was a symbol) was made for man, not man for the law. King George was turning the law against the Colonial people for his own immoral mercantilist ends, when he was required by God to make laws for their benefit. As Reformed scholars and patriots said, when a king does that, he unkings himself. The citizens are to obey the king, but the king is also to obey the people in their interpretation of the law of God.
It was precisely that which inspired the American conservative revolution -- restoring the law of God to its rightful place in our legal structure. See (again) the works of William Blackstone on the logic of God as sovereign over all things. Blackstone was the primary legal scholar of the era of the American Revolution. His position on all human law being subservient to the law of God was not a bitter public contest in either England or America -- as it was in France. In America, virtually no contest at all, only just the beginnings in the schools of higher education where the philosophy of the secular "Enlightenment" was slowly taking root.
See Edwin Vieira's superb article on the "North American Union" in relation to the Declaration. He spells out the legal status of the Declaration. Herbert Titus, another constitutional lawyer, also makes this connection in his short book, The Constitution of the United States: A Christian Document.
The view of America as a Christian nation is supported by every single Supreme Court decision related to the subject clear up to the 1940's, and even into the 1950's. The 1962 "Engel v. Vitale" decision was a travesty of judicial tyranny, in effect gutting the American legal system of its legal basis, the law of God, and making the Court itself into God, the definer of right and wrong, beyond which there is no appeal. That was blasphemy against God and idolatry against ourselves, but was ignored by almost all of us confused and weak-kneed Christians of the 1960s (and still, in 2012). To no one but God should that kind of power and authority be attributed. It will, as our founders knew, lead to tyranny, not freedom.
The Preamble below is green, indented, and contains the religious and moral foundations for our American government. The long list of abuses which follows in black was of more interest to the colonials because they took for granted our moral and spiritual foundations. We no longer take them for granted, we instead seem to want to make war upon them. The four references to God are underlined, two in the Preamble and two at the end.
See end for ruminations of Laura Engels Wilder, of Little House on the Prairie fame. She really got it right. We DO have a King. As the Presbyterians of the Revolutionary era preached, "No King but Jesus."
Now, with the reelection of Barack Obama, the Declaration is again coming alive. The people have lost their will to live, have become dependents upon the government, valuing free "things" rather than freedom. The Declaration understands the connection between "things" and freedom (TJ first penned the Declaration, the second sentence ended... "life, liberty, and property." The substitution of "happiness" was not meant to be more spiritual than "property", it was understood that ownership of property, especially of one's homestead, was essential to one's liberty. That was especially true in an agricultural age. But ownership of property must be built on the prior freedom of spirit which only God (not civil government) can give. That is what Laura Ingalls sees below.
For more on whether the Constitution
and Declaration are Christian documents,
Biblical Government in the
Constitution Library. E. Fox.]
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
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.
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. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
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.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained, and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
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.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies, without the consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
* For protecting them by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
* For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
* For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
* For depriving us in many cases of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
* For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
* For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
* For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
* For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
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.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren.
* We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us.
* We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here.
* We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence.
They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
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 the 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.
* * * * * * * * *
The signers of the Declaration represented the new States as follows:
New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin
Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr.,
Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
Subject: Laura Ingalls (Wilder) July 4th
The crowd was scattering away then, but Laura stood stock still. Suddenly she had a completely new thought. The Declaration and the song came together in her mind, and she thought: God is America's king.
She thought: Americans won't obey any king on earth. Americans are free. That means they have to obey their own consciences. No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself. Why (she thought), when I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn't anyone else who has a right to give me orders. I will have to make myself be good.
Her whole mind seemed to be lighted up by that thought. This is what it means to be free. It means, you have to be good. "Our father's God, to Thee, author of liberty..." The laws of Nature and of Nature's God endow you with a right to life and liberty. Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God's law is the only thing that gives you a right to be free.
- from Little Town on the Prairie,
chapter 8 --
[COMMENT: Laura Ingalls Wilder had an extraordinary insight into the Godly nature of freedom. Freedom is indeed sacred to God because God is building a Kingdom which is a freewill covenant. We can enter that Kingdom only by learning how to exercise our freedom, ordered by the law and grace of God.
The self-governing-under-God person is, in that very sense, the key to the survival of a democratic republic. As Alexis d'Toqueville remarked: America is great because she is good. When America ceases to be great, she shall cease to be good.
We are right on that terrible road downhill now. America, Wake Up! E. Fox.]
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Date Posted - --/--/2005?? Date Last Edited - 01/22/2013