Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Declaration of Independence

Written by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence stands as a timeless statement of human liberty, rights and equality. Adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the signers of the Declaration pledged to it their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Jefferson said, “The Declaration of Independence... [is the] declaratory charter of our rights, and of the rights of man.”[1] The Declaration is America's first and foremost founding document. It sets forth our understanding of human rights based upon the principles of natural law, and the legitimate authority and purpose of government. The first three sentences constitute its most significant and oft-quoted words:

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.

 Writing to Henry Lee concerning the source of the principles of the Declaration, Jefferson said: This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, not yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All it's [sic] authority rests on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, & c. [2] Abraham Lincoln said that ‘[these] principles … are the definitions and axioms of a free society.”[3] He concluded that that in the Declaration, Jefferson introduced “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times ….”[4] Indeed, the individual, natural rights of man and woman to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are universal. As we celebrate our nation's independence this 4th of July, may we read and reflect upon the words of the Declaration of Independence that declared to all the world that all men are created equal and that God is the "Author of Liberty."[5]
[1] Jefferson to Samuel Adams Wells, 1819, ME 15:200.
[2] Jefferson to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825, ME 16:118-19.
[3] Abraham Lincoln to H. L. Pierce, April 6, 1859, Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1953), 3:375-76.[1] [4] Id.
[5] Samuel Francis Smith, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" (1831).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Virtue & Happiness

"There is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness." --George Washington

"Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue?" --George Washington

"The order of nature [is] that individual happiness shall be inseparable from the practice of virtue." --Thomas Jefferson

“Happiness is the aim of life. Virtue is the foundation of happiness.” --Thomas Jefferson

"Without virtue, happiness cannot be." --Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thomas Paine: "Common Sense"

Published anonymously by Thomas Paine in January of 1776, Common Sense was an instant best-seller, both in the colonies and in Europe. It went through several editions in Philadelphia, and was republished in all parts of United America. Because of it, Paine became internationally famous.

Common Sense was "by far the most influential tract of the American remains one of the most brilliant pamphlets ever written in the English language."

First and foremost, Common Sense advocated an immediate declaration of independence, postulating a special moral obligation of America to the rest of the world. Not long after publication, the spirit of Paine's argument found resonance in the American Declaration of Independence.

Written at the outset of the Revolution, Common Sense became the leaven for the ferment of the times. It stirred the colonists to strengthen their resolve, resulting in the first successful anti-colonial action in modern history.

Quotes from Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776):

“As parents, we can have no joy, knowing that this government is not sufficiently lasting to ensure any thing which we may bequeath to posterity: And by a plain method of argument, as we are running the next generation into debt, we ought to do the work of it, otherwise we use them meanly and pitifully. In order to discover the line of our duty rightly, we should take our children in our hand, and fix our station a few years farther into life; that eminence will present a prospect, which a few present fears and prejudices conceal from our sight.”

“Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”

“The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.”

“The reformation was preceded by the discovery of America, as if the Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety.”

“The Sun never shined on a cause of greater worth.”

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

“When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.”