For as long as I can remember, I’ve read the Declaration of Independence on July 4th. It is the closest thing to a religious text a secular humanist like myself ever embraces.
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.
So begins the body. It seems a fitting place to begin a legal blog — on July 4th, no less — that will deal with how and whether the government that came out of that revolution lives up to its promises as reflected in the lives of its least fortunate citizens.
Today we also remember Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, and George Ross. These men, my fellow Pennsylvanians, set their names to the Declaration, pledging their Lives, Fortune, and sacred Honor to what would become a republic – if we can keep it.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly on this day when we will be inundated with calls for blind patriotism and jingoistic pride draped in exhortations to “support the troops,” we must remember that the Declaration of Independence was a challenge to tyranny. In place of a king, we installed the people themselves as sovereign, and formed a government of, for, and by the people. The Declaration sets up the failure mode for that government: revolution. While the Constitution that was later adopted provides for its own modification through amendments, the fundamental principle “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” remains unchallenged.
We Americans really are a fascinating people, aren’t we?