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WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Simply stated, this is the liberal creed and this is the conservative creed. Some things have changed since 1776. “Men” now include women. And unlike ’76, created equal now includes all human beings, whatever their color. But the principle is unchanged. And this columnist doesn’t need a disaster like 9-11 to remember that all of us as Americans are united in support of this principle – and July 4th is the day to celebrate our common roots.
Also, while this columnist is not especially religious, she understands that “inalienable Rights” that are derived from a “Creator” – and not from the whim of a dictator, imam, minister or anyone else claiming to have a direct wire to God – are more secure than any right derived from “Mein Kampf,” “Das Kapital” or the “Contract With America.”
That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed …
This is it – the one principle that has divided the world since these words were written in 1776. If this were the only standard you had for judging the world and its history, you’d be doing pretty well. As human beings have fought for and received their dignity, the monarchies, autocracies, dictatorships and commissariats have retreated, like a melting glacier. Liberals may be more inclined than conservatives to believe that this struggle is not over, especially here at home; conservatives probably believe that most of this struggle remains to be waged abroad. Left and right may disagree, but together they form a “more perfect union.”
… that whenever any Form of Government become destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government …
Fortunately, 13 years after the passage of the Declaration of Independence, Congress gave us the means to “alter” our form of government rather than having to abolish it. Of course, the definition of the “the People” has surely changed since then. Voting no longer requires white skin, male gender, the payment of a poll tax, the ownership of property, a literacy test or any other impediment to keep “them” from exercising their franchise. “Them” were once blacks, women, Irish, poor, Asians, Germans, Masons and most recently (as it is ever so politely put), “people of Middle East descent.” However, “Them” has now mostly become “Us.” Can anyone deny that this country is the stronger for it?
What is especially interesting is how these three seemingly simple principles put in context everything else that appeared in the Declaration. So many of the colonists’ complaints against King George III still resonate in today’s headlines. The King was accused of “suspending Legislatures”; “depriving us of the Benefits of Trial by Jury”; “taking away our Charters and abolishing our most valuable Laws”; “dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly”; “made Judges dependent on his Will alone.” The list goes on, but the principle remains the same – rule of law and government by the governed. If all of this seems faintly antique, I would simply point out that a blockbuster report recently issued by the United Nations and written by Arab economists, declared that the abysmal standard of living in the 22 Arab states was chiefly due to the lack of these things.
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.
Sept. 11, 2001, brought to this columnist’s mind these last few words of the Declaration. The 56 Americans who signed it knew very well that if the Revolution were unsuccessful, this document would also serve as their death warrant. And as Joseph Ellis wrote recently in his book, “Founding Brothers,” there was absolutely nothing inevitable about the American Revolution succeeding. It could have failed at dozens of different turns.
In a sense, the dead of 9-11 brought home (once again) the fact that being an American – in spite of our enormous wealth – has never been easy. It seems that in this country, liberals and conservatives alike are constantly put to the test of their principles … sometimes – whether in the mountains of Afghanistan or during the 1960s in the Old South – at the cost of their lives.