July 2017 Prophetic Observer
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The Declaration of Independence: The Foundation of American Freedom
by Jeff Cobble—Constitutional Lawyer, Member of the Board of Trustees of Southwest Radio Church
This month, as Americans celebrate Independence Day, undoubtedly the day will be dominated by frivolity, entertainment, sports, food, drink, and fireworks. Few gatherings will take time to consider the weighty issues that gave birth to our American people. Fewer still will take time to focus on the text and the principles contained in the actual DOCUMENT that gave rise to our independence.
Unfortunately, it is not only the secularists, the political progressives, and the America-haters who will ignore our founding principles—the vast majority of self-identified “red-blooded, patriotic Americans” will find themselves in the mainstream by chasing pleasures instead of honoring principles. Our country’s downfall has been precipitated by the failure of the individual and all of modern society’s primary institutions (the family, the schools, and especially the churches) to deal with the more substantive topics of law and government.
Individual, domestic, educational, and ecclesiastical reform is necessary, and the reform is urgent. The American people have become ignorant of the basis of our independence and of the forms, means, and powers of our respective governments.
Sure, the majority of Americans have heard about the Declaration of Independence (although by looking at recent trends, that number is quickly shrinking and may soon become a minority). Probably about half of the people know that July 4 is the date set aside to celebrate our national independence. Fewer still know anything about the actual contents of the document.
Have you ever asked yourself why so many people do not know about this historic document? The answer is obvious —most do not know about it because no one has told them.
So why is no one telling them? When one considers the fact that many people view the document as being largely “politically incorrect,” it is easy to determine why the documents is not being taught.
The Declaration is politically incorrect because, when accurately understood and applied, it is revolutionary in its tone and in its nature. Its principles have the power to educate, to inform, and even to change one’s way of thinking about government. Because of this threat to educate and change a man, most established governments consider it to be very dangerous for a citizen to knows his rights, to know from whence they come, and to know how those rights must be respected by his fellowman and secured through the various functions of government.
Perhaps an example would be useful. Many folks can correctly identify the statement “that all men are created equal” as being contained in the Declaration of Independence, but few actually know how to apply that statement correctly.
For example, almost everyone uses the clause “that all men are created equal” as a basis for their belief that all people are equal. But if one is being intellectually honest, he will admit that not all people are equal—not here in America, and not anywhere else in the world. Why, there’s not even complete equality within any single family.
Some will say that the clause means that all men should have the same opportunity. But again, intellectual honesty and common experience both show that to be a false notion, for many opportunities are available to us in America that are not available to those in other nations.
Others, especially those theists that acknowledge a Creator God, will claim that “all men are created equal” means that God creates everyone equal. But it is not true that God creates all people equal. At conception, God allows some individuals to have better “genes” than others. Some are conceived into a family which has greater wealth and social status. Later, beginning at birth and being distinctly revealed only shortly thereafter, it becomes evident that some “men” are more intelligent than others, that some are more handsome than others, that some are stronger than others, that some are healthier than others, that some are more free than others, well … you see the pattern. So this explanation must also fail.
Still others will conclude that the clause is simply a statement of a goal—it’s a principle to which we all aspire. But taken in its actual context and giving the words their natural meaning, the clause cannot fairly be called a goal or aspiration. We can rebut that idea, i.e. that equality is a goal of independence, by considering that the words do not say that equality can be accomplished at some time in the future. Instead, the very plain words of the Declaration say that equality has already been accomplished:
we hold (present tense) these Truths to be self-evident (again, present tense).
What Truths are self-evident? According to the Declaration, there are THREE self-evident Truths (Truths with a capital “T”).
- First, “that all men are created equal.”
- The second self-evident Truth: “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
- And immediately thereafter, the third self-evident Truth: “that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
So, taken in proper context, just what does this first Truth—the clause “that all men are created equal”—really mean?
It means that all men are created equal legally—that one’s life is just as good before the law as any other life; that one’s liberty is just as good before the law as any other’s liberty; and that one’s pursuit of happiness is just as good before the law as any other’s pursuit of happiness.
Applying the principle just a bit further, it means that one man’s possessions, while certainly not equal to the possessions of all of his neighbors, are entitled to equal treatment under the law. It means that the law must be no respecter of persons.
If one has an incomplete analysis or wrong interpretation of the clause “that all men are created equal,” that wrong view can be used to justify all sorts of wrong philosophies about government and its role in the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” of its citizens.
These three foundational, universal principles of law and government are worthy of our full understanding. As a nation, we cannot afford to be unsure or confused about these essential principles that are “Truths” and that are “self-evident.”
But these principles of the Declaration of Independence are only the beginning point of knowledge for a true, patriotic, American. Many other important principles are also enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.
So let’s go further and test our own knowledge of other founding principles contained in the Declaration of Independence.
Consider the following five questions related to the principles contained in the Declaration of Independence:
1. True or False: The Declaration of Independence bestows upon every citizen the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Answer: False. The Declaration of Independence bestows nothing. Instead, it says that those rights come from God, and that this fact is self-evident. Government exists only to secure (protect) those rights.
“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.”
2. True or False: The Declaration of Independence declares that the United States of America “is, and of right ought to be, a free and independent nation.”
Answer: False. The Declaration of Independence, in the last paragraph of that document, thrice declares that we are free and independent States.
“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 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.”
3. True or False: The Declaration of Independence declares fundamental principles of government which are still relevant and applicable in the modern age, such as the right to abolish one government and establish another as would seem best to the people.
Answer: True. The Declaration of Independence, in the second and third paragraphs of that document, declares that government is only right (“just”) when it operates within the parameters given to it by the people. Therefore, when the people believe that government has become destructive of their personal rights and too full of its own power, it is their “Right” to reform government in any manner suitable to the people.
“[D]eriving 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.”
4. True or False: The primary reason we separated from England was because of “taxation without representation.”
Answer: False. Although taxation without representation was one complaint included within the text of the Declaration of Independence, the document contains a list of 27 allegations against King George III of England, and taxation without representation was only number 17 on the list.
5. Fill in the Blank: Of the 27 complaints in the Declaration of Independence, the two greatest areas of complaints were about the king’s misconduct in the areas of ____________ and __________.
Answer: Law-making and Courts. Of the 27 allegations against the king, eight allegations concern complaints about the king’s improper legislative policies, and four of the 27 complaints were about the king’s judicial system. When combined together, the Declaration of Independence contains at least 12 allegations, or over 40 percent of the complaints, related to bad laws and bad courts.
Complaints About Laws or Bad Legislative Policies (8)
- 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.
- 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.
Complaints about Courts (4)
- 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.
- For protecting them [armed British troops], by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
- For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury.
Now score yourself at 20 points for each question. If you got more than 50 points, you have done better than the typical citizen. The average score is less than 50. This is an extremely poor showing when considering the fact that two of the four questions are “True or False” questions, and on those questions, the average person can guess correctly half of the time without knowing the answer.
Now ask yourself when you last heard a sermon on the principles contained in the Declaration of Independence. Not a sermon on the history of the Declaration of Independence, but a sermon on the actual principles of the Declaration of Independence.
Ask your children what they have learned about the principles of the Declaration of Independence in their school classes.
And if you really want to test the strength of our society, give this quiz to your church leaders and to school teachers just to see how they score. Be forewarned. You must be ready to receive a lot of excuses for low scores.
Today, not tomorrow or next week, but TODAY, we must resolve anew to study and master the principles of the Declaration of Independence, for it is the basis for American freedom. Fathers must teach these principles to his children. Teachers must demand each student’s mastery of the document. And pastors must become “politically incorrect” and stoke the fires of liberty in their sermons.
But we must not stop at the church-house. There is grave danger in allowing our light to be “hid under a bushel.” We must cast off the bushel and take God’s message of POLITICAL liberty to the schoolhouse, to the courthouse, and to the halls of government.
Church Leader, consider the words of John Witherspoon, who himself was a founding father from New Jersey, and as President of Princeton, trained dozens of other founding fathers of both states and national governments. Witherspoon warned that you will never keep your religious rights if you fail to guard your secular rights.
“There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire. If therefore we yield up our temporal property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage” (John Witherspoon, The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men, 1776).
Pastor, do your messages address the duties and obligations of state citizenship to stand for truth and righteousness? Is your life “an ensample” (Phil. 3:17; 2 Thes. 3:9) to the flock?
“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations. … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution” (Letter from John Adams to H. Niles, February 13, 1818).
Parents, is your family in a church where RIGHTEOUSNESS is AFLAME, as opposed to feel-good devotionals designed to improve everyone’s self-esteem? Christian men and women must step up and show—not only teach, but show—your children what it means to be truly “good.”
“Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the greatness and genius of America. America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great” (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835-1840).
American, have you considered your duty to cherish the noble sacrifice made by the founding generations for your freedom? Will you take time on Independence Day to set aside your pleasures in order to consider the goodness of God in choosing men of the past to enshrine biblical principles in civil government?
“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, nor 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” (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825).
Teacher, Coach, Scout Leader, etc.—Have you fulfilled your duty to the coming generations, even if it means incurring the wrath of the teacher’s union, the school administration, or the local school board?
“We find it hard to believe that liberty could ever be lost in this country. But it can be lost, and it will be, if the time ever comes when these documents are regarded not as the supreme expression of our profound belief, but merely as curiosities in glass cases” (President Harry Truman, December 15, 1952, address at the National Archives
Finally, consider the modern-day American application of Hosea 4:1-6:
“Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood. Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away. Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest. Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”
If we fail to heed the warnings of Scripture, not only will we, the inhabitants of the land, suffer (v. 3), but the church will fall (v. 5), the mother will be destroyed (v. 5), and the children will be forgotten (v. 6).
Pray that it will not be said of America: “there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.” (v. 1)
We must not forsake the knowledge of our forefathers, for if we do so, we risk being rejected by God. Instead, let us know and proclaim the wonders of our American founding:
“The highest, the transcendent glory of the American Revolution was this—it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the precepts of Christianity” (Letter from John Quincy Adams, 1837; pub. The Historical Magazine, 1860).
Friends, it’s time to report for duty. We need to take off our slippers, our robes, and our leisure wear and get outfitted with some work boots! We have a nation to save, with God’s help!