The United States of America is exceptional in at least one way: it was founded by folks who made very clear that the reasons for breaking with past allegiance and alliance — indeed, subjugation — rested, finally, on an idea: liberty.
No doubt that was just an excuse for some founders. And no doubt Americans never kept liberty foremost in their minds for long. But the emphasis at the beginning on the moral principles altered not merely the American consciousness, but the conscience of the world.
The principles led a list of complaints, and were preceded by an explanation for their necessity: “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” required the public statement.
The meat of the argument is this:
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.
You may write it a bit differently. (Too many, today, wouldn’t write it at all.) But whether you make minor edits for modernized style, or substantive edits for some paradigm shifts, the basic idea, that somehow government must rest on consent — not on mere accommodation to terrorizing force — remains one of the most potent ideas ever promoted.
A moral, informed consent binds government, or at least limits it: this is the notion that changed the world.
For the better.
Remember, though: the break with Great Britain was deemed, by King George III, treasonous.
But it was very reasonable.
We have a lot of reasons, today, to resist a lot of homegrown tyranny. As in 1776, the future hangs in the balance. Fortunately, our founders did a good enough job that what we do now requires less than their “treason.” Still, just like them, our lives, our liberties, and our sacred honor are on the line.
We’ve got some work to do.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.