The way to build a consensus for good governance is to come up with a simple, beautiful vision of liberty and justice for all.
That’s what the Founding Fathers taught us.
In 1776, the men who authored the Declaration of Independence probably did not represent the majority opinion in the colonies. There was no consensus among the people to risk war with the greatest colonial power on the face of the Earth. Life was more than tolerable in America – maybe even providing more prosperity than did life in Great Britain at the time.
But our founders were smart men. They saw the threat to liberty coming. And they understood the opportunity they had for the greatest expansion of freedom the world had ever known.
So, before drafting a laundry list of grievances with the Crown, they wrote a beautiful mission statement we know as the Declaration of Independence. It was indeed revolutionary in nature, redefining the proper role of government and demanding that it accede to the consent of the governed. It also recognized that human beings are first accountable to their consciences and to God. That is the basis for liberty and self-government.
The founders saw government at best as a necessary evil in a fallen world and sought to build a nation that would allow responsible, moral people to be self-governing, getting much of their inspiration from the Books of Samuel and the Book of Judges.
Needless to say, their vision succeeded in building a broad coalition and a consensus needed to create an independent, free nation.
Earlier, the Pilgrims who came to America’s shores upon the Mayflower accomplished something similar on a smaller scale. The Christian separatists who fled Europe for religious liberty represented a minority on that vessel. I’m sure they made every effort to convert the majority to their point of view. But they also drafted a beautiful mission statement called the Mayflower Compact that promised a better way of life for all aboard that ship.
They didn’t win them over by promising them goodies. They didn’t win them over through compromise. They didn’t win them over through mediation. They didn’t win them over one issue at a time. They drafted a document that appealed to all men and women who sought to live freely and responsibly.
In fact, among those who followed the Pilgrims to the New World was Puritan John Winthrop. On the voyage to New England, Winthrop wrote the following words, inspired, of course, by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken … we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God. … We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us til we be consumed out of the good land whither we are a-going.”
Ronald Reagan would later hearken to that imagery in the 1980s in his crusade to return to the values that set America apart from the rest of the world. He referenced “a shining city on a hill.”
We have two powerful examples here of freedom movements that shook the world. They both started with beautiful mission statements with broad appeal to responsible living and liberty.
Today we have another freedom movement on the march. It’s called the tea party. It is being tempted and seduced to sign on to the idea of limiting its agenda to economic issues that do not address the fundamental problems we face in America.
In my new book, “The Tea Party Manifesto,” I have spelled out a better idea. Why not emulate the greatest freedom movement in the history of the world, the one begun by America’s founders, rather than a movement of modern “fiscal conservatives” who have no track record of success?
I don’t believe we are morally or intellectually discerning enough in 21st–century America to come up with a mission statement superior to the one our founders created in 1776. And why should we? Is it antiquated? Is it out of date? Or does it still represent the highest aspirations of free men and women everywhere?
I believe we can do no better today. After all, the Declaration of Independence is a mission statement every American should be able to embrace today. If they can’t, they ought to find somewhere else to live. There are plenty of other states where men and women can live under the yoke of government unaccountable to the people and the rule of law.
Fellow tea partiers: Adopt the Declaration of Independence as your vision, not the materialistic man-made constructs of 21st–century politicians who say they have a way to build a “big tent.” The founders built a tent so big with their vision that the rest of the world marveled. It can be done again with that same vision if we try.