The Birth Certificate of America
The Fourth of July. A day that elicits images of Old Glory gently gracing the wind, marching bands trumpeting out beloved patriotic tunes and families gathering for that special time of leisure and kinship. Yet on this most meaningful of days, do we pause to think about what it is that we are celebrating? We are, of course, commemorating the birth of America, a nation that sprang forth from the words of a simple, yet momentous document known as the Declaration of Independence.
When our country was founded, our forefathers needed an instrument that would clearly mark the point of origin for the nation. The Declaration of Independence is the physical record of the inception of our country, the tangible communication that authenticated our civil aspirations. In essence, it is the Birth Certificate of America.
In looking at the masterwork known as the Declaration of Independence, we can observe five natural divisions of this creation: the Justification, the Moral Basis, the Indictment, the Denunciation of the British People, and the Resolution.
The Justification is embodied in the first paragraph, a mere single sentence long: "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 entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."
The opening phrase sets the American Revolution within the whole occurrence of human circumstances. It dignifies the Revolution as a contest involving principle, proclaiming the cause of moral legitimacy.
The second section, the Moral Basis, is the primary component of the document. It is the most famous and, not surprisingly, the most moving portion. "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 philosophy of government presented in these words raises two very fundamental questions: Where do rights come from and where does government derive its power?The words of the Declaration explain that rights come from a divine source. As a people, we are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. These rights cannot be removed, and they cannot be taken away.
Where then does government obtain its power? Just power is conferred through the consent of the governed. Certain limited powers are benevolently granted to the government through a social contract called the Constitution. This, in a nutshell, is the concept of limited government.
The third section of the Declaration, the Indictment, can be compared to a legal document that a prosecutor would prepare. It is brought into full view with these words: "The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states."
The Indictment outlines the grievances that the colonists had against King George III, and it provides an exhaustive list of charges. There are 28 specific grievances that would indeed prove King George III was a tyrant.
The Denunciation of the British People follows the attachment of facts in the Indictment. This sequence is significant because the American people demonstrated that in addition to seeking redress from the Crown, they were also appealing to their fellow citizens. With an aura of frustration and sadness, the British people are described as "deaf to the voice of justice."
After going through all of the various steps - the separation had been justified, the moral basis had been set forth, the facts for the indictment had been enumerated, and a denunciation of the British brethren had been made, all that was left was to state what action was to be taken.
The Resolution says: "We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America 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; 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 final sentence of the Resolution is extremely important. These were, in fact, men of honor whose motives and actions could withstand the closest of scrutiny. By signing the Declaration of Independence, they became capital criminals in the eyes of the Crown. They signed the document knowing full well that they were, in reality, subject to death as a consequence of their actions.
How was it that our Founding Fathers were able to accept such a heavy mantle and begin down a path that was riddled with uncertainty and fraught with danger? It was because they possessed a love of country, a passion for liberty, an abundance of faith and a courage that subsumed fear.
Their noble qualities await the acknowledgement of our inheritance. We need only to cultivate the seeds of these traits that lie within our souls. We have their words and their remembrances to guide us.