Introduction to Declaration of Independence

In the aftermath of the French and Indian War, America was placed firmly on the road to independence and revolution. Had
the British government planned the outcome, it could not have been more certain. The colonial years had stamped distinct
attitudes and beliefs on the character of the American people. The early colonists, considered themselves “English”; the King
was their sovereign, and they were his loyal subjects. This national identity shifted slightly with each passing generation. By
the eighteenth century, Americans no longer thought of themselves as “English”. Collectively they were “Americans”;
individually they considered their country to be their particular colony. When Jefferson spoke of his “country”, he was
referring to Virginia, not the colonies as a whole. The same was true of those from other colonies as well.

After the Revolution and the formation of the new Government under the Constitution, the national identity would shift again,
to “American”. This new national identity was the outgrowth of having a common language, a common heritage, a common
social culture, and a common religion -- in spite of its many divisions. The 169-year colonial period also changed some
traditional ideas about government. The “divine right of kings” to rule, gave way to the belief that sovereignty was derived
from the people.

It was recognized that although government was necessary to maintain an orderly civil society, that government should
reflect the will of the people, as expressed individually or collectively, through representatives of their own choosing. They
would no longer accept the arbitrary decrees of kings or his representatives when they considered them unjustifiable. This,
by the way, is the foundational idea behind the constitutional doctrine of enumerated powers and the Tenth Amendment to
the Constitution. The idea of “citizen sovereignty” was first expressed in the Mayflower Compact and the later laws pursuant
to that Compact. The same idea was expressed in the Constitution of Connecticut and in later governing documents as
colonial legislatures gained in power and influence.

Another idea that became solidified during the colonial period was the inviolability of property rights and capitalism. In the old
country, a person’s station in life was determined by the condition of one’s birth. In America, the real possibility of economic
and social mobility was realized for the first time. A person could arrive in America with nothing or be born into poverty and
through hard work and effort, accumulate property and live in prosperity.

Ownership of property was understood to be the product of a person’s labor and no one had the right to take that property
or interfere with its enjoyment without permission of the owner. Trespass laws based on property rights were frequently
used in colonial America to prevent customs agents from enforcing forfeiture laws in smuggling cases. They simply sued the
agent in civil court arguing that the agent had “trespassed” upon their right to use and enjoy their property. In most cases, the
plaintiff won.

Property rights are also behind the colonial’s opposition to “taxation without representation”. Appropriating the product of
someone’s labor without compensation or permission amounts to slavery. When the government taxes someone without their
consent, personally or through their representative, they are trespassing on that person’s right to enjoy the fruits of his or her
labor and enslaving them in direct proportion to the amount of taxes taken. In fact, we are all enslaved by the government
according to the amount of labor we expend to earn the property or wealth confiscated against our will, in taxes. For the
average twenty-first century American, that means that approximately 40% of their life is spent in slaving for a government
body. That percentage will increase significantly for future generations if our government stays on its present course.

Two other “American” concepts that were in the latter stages of development at the time of the revolution, though not
perfected, were the concepts of equality and religious liberty. While America had its “gentry” and there were still class
distinctions, those distinctions were usually based on personal accomplishments rather than as a birthright. The necessity of
working together in a cooperative fashion in order to survive had eliminated or, at least, blurred the distinction between the
privileged and the commoner. Although the principle of equality was clearly stated in the Declaration of Independence, it
would require a civil war and a century of segregation before the curse of slavery was purged and equality applied to all
people in America.

Slavery, which had existed as an economic system throughout history, was increasingly condemned by prominent citizens
throughout the northern colonies that were settled by evangelical Christian sects. Virtually every society around the world has
a history of slavery in its past. It is the ultimate expression of the human desire to exercise power over others. Slavery was
practiced among the American Indians and the tribes of Africa long before it spread to the European nations.

The first slaves in America were brought here by the Spanish. A colony that did not make its way into the history books,
probably because it was not English, and because it was short-lived, was the colony of Miguel de Gualdape, founded by
Spanish explorer Lucas Vasquez de Allyon around 1526, somewhere along the coast of “New Georgia”. Among the settlers
were a number of black slaves. During a fight over leadership between the Spanish, the slaves revolted and fled the colony to
seek refuge among the Indians. Shortly thereafter, the settlement was wiped out by an epidemic and the slaves were left to
assimilate into the Indian culture.

Among the English colonies, slavery was first introduced into the Jamestown colony in 1619 by an English pirate sailing
under the Dutch flag. The pirate ship’s name was the White Lion. It had captured a Portuguese ship, the Sao Joao Baptista,
headed for Mexico. Among the cargo looted by the pirates were 20 Angolan slaves. The White Lion had been damaged in the
fight with the Sao Joao Baptista and later damaged even more by a Caribbean storm. It put into the harbor at Old Point
Comfort for repairs.

By 1619, the Jamestown colony was dependent on tobacco exports for its livelihood and because of deaths from disease and
battles with the Indians; it was short of able-bodied men to work the fields. The English pirates traded their human cargo to
the Jamestown settlers in exchange for food and supplies. These slaves however were baptized and made indentured servants
rather than remaining as outright slaves. From Virginia, slavery eventually spread to the other colonies with the exception of
New England and the colony of Pennsylvania. While slavery was not outlawed until the Civil War, opposition to slavery and
awareness of its immorality grew steadily from before the Revolutionary war onward. In 1789, there were eight slave states
and five Free states. By 1837, half of the 26 states in the union were Free states.

The concept of religious liberty was more developed at the time of the revolution than the opposition to slavery. In fact, the
understanding of religious liberty was far more advanced at the time of America’s founding than it is today. The fanatical zeal
that existed in the first few generations after the reformation period had matured, thanks to the availability and almost
universal possession of the Bible by the average family. Religious liberty naturally follows in the wake of “freedom of
conscience” and “personal accountability”, the central themes of the Great Awakening in the mid-eighteenth century.
Colonists had come to understand from experience that tyranny by the church was just as tyrannical and often more cruelly
implemented than tyranny by government.

They also had learned from experience that monopoly of religion combined with the power of the state always ended in
religious tyranny. Since “forced belief” is a human impossibility, state mandated religion and church mandated doctrine
always result in communities of hypocrites. The same thing applies today to the progressive practice of “political
correctness”. By the time of the revolution, separation of church and state was recognized as a natural and desirable
condition. However, the founders understood a truth that Americans lost sight of during the twentieth century; state
prohibition of religious expression in any setting is simply another form of religious tyranny. In a sense, the modern doctrine
of “political correctness” and the popular application of the “separation of church and state” doctrine are both simply
variations of the tyranny practiced by the established state religions of centuries past.

The principles discussed above are all included by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence which he referred to as “an
expression of the American mind”. The Declaration of Independence is a unique document in world history.  It is the
Declaration that provides the foundation for our form of government.  In it, we find the core principles on which the
Constitution and the Bill of Rights are based, natural rights and the sovereignty of the people.  It also sets forth the only
legitimate purpose of government.

The Declaration of Independence was adopted in July 1776 by the second Continental Congress whose initial purpose had
been to explore ways to restore the relationship with Great Britain.  Independence was not universally desired by the
colonists.  Historians estimate that only about forty percent of the people were in favor of independence at the time.  A large
number of colonists were still loyal to England, even after the outbreak of the war, and between thirty and forty percent
struggled to remain neutral.

By the time the Second Continental Congress convened in 1775, hope for reconciliation with England had all but
disappeared.  The second Congress met on May 10, less than a month after the battles of Lexington and Concord in which
fifty colonists were killed and thirty-nine wounded. The British losses were sixty-five killed, 180 wounded and twenty-seven
missing. The siege of Boston was still underway; Benjamin Franklin had just returned from London where he had been sent
by the First Congress in an attempt at reconciliation between Great Britain and the Colonies; Thomas Jefferson was
promoting a plan for America to be governed by King George III with an independent legislature in the colonies. (The
Galloway Plan)

Soon after the second Congress convened, Peyton Randolph, President of the first Congress and reelected as President of the
second, was called back to Virginia to preside over the Virginia House of Burgesses of which he was Speaker. Thomas
Jefferson was sent to Philadelphia, by the Virginia Legislature, as his replacement, arriving on June 21. With the Departure of
Randolph, John Hancock was elected as President of the Congress. Hancock, along with Samuel Adams, both of Boston and
generally considered to be the instigators of the Boston Tea Party, were strong advocates for independence.

The arguments of Hancock, Adams and others, for a declaration of independence finally prevailed as being necessary in order
to secure aid from other European nations like France and Holland. A committee consisting of John Adams, Benjamin
Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston and Thomas Jefferson was appointed to prepare a formal Declaration of
Independence.  The committee assigned the task of writing the document to Thomas Jefferson.

Near the end of his life, Jefferson, responding to a controversy seemingly originating with John Adams concerning the
originality of the ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence, explained his purpose in drafting the document.

    “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.” (Emphasis Added)
    ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Richard Henry Lee, May 8, 1825

There can be no doubt that he succeeded in his mission, for in the two-hundred words of the second paragraph he
encapsulates, not only an “expression of the American mind” but an expression of its heart and spirit as well.

    “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 all 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.”

The ideals expressed in these words not only provide the justification for America’s independence and sovereignty, but the
principles on which the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are based.  From these ideals, the most prosperous nation in
history was established and has endured for over two-hundred years.

Throughout its history, America has been a haven of liberty for the oppressed throughout the world.  During the last half of
the twentieth century, the principles established in the Declaration of Independence have been increasingly ignored.  With the
election of Barack Obama to the office of President and the sharp turn away from the principles of liberty and the rule of law
to the principles of statism and autocracy, the traditional role and character of America as the last bastion of liberty and
prosperity is under the threat of extinction.

There are four fundamental principles underlying the American System of Government. They are found in our founding
document, the Declaration of Independence and provide the foundation for the two successive governing documents the
“Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union” (1781 – 1789) and the Constitution of the United States (1789 –?)
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Chapter 10
An Expression of the American Mind
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