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October 30th, 2020
L&T Opinions Page

earl watt mugL&T Publisher Earl Watt

 

After having conversations with several readers in my office about the founding of our nation, many have asked me to write a column about the conversation we have about the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Here it is:

On the walls in my office are a few cornerstone documents — The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, the original proposal of The Bill of Rights with 12 amendments (10 passed) and the Gettysburg Address. I also have a painting of John Brown, the famous Kansas abolitionist who traveled to Virginia in an effort to start a slave uprising only to be hanged for his attack on a federal armament at Harper’s Ferry.

I typically ask guests which document founded the nation.

Almost every time they reply, “The Constitution.”

And then I explain why our nation is not based on the Constitution but on the Declaration of Independence.

Very obviously, we celebrate July 4, 1776, as our nation’s founding, not Constitution Day, which was Sept. 17, 1787.

The Declaration established the United States as a country of its own.

More importantly, it established what we believed the rights of its citizens would entail and why the British were no longer the ruling authority in the United States of America.

To them it was obvious, or self evident, that all men were created equal and were “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,  that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Too often, we stop there when the most important part of the document follows in the next few sentences.

The Americans defined what the role of government should be.

After listing that we are all born with God-given rights that cannot be taken away from us, they explained that “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, drawing their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

This means government exists for the sole purpose of protecting our God-given rights.

They went on to say what is the appropriate action if it ever fails to protect our rights.

“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.”

Notice nowhere does it say your God-given rights are to be determined by the majority.

Your rights are not subject to the will of others.

Freedom of speech, for example, was not guaranteed to you by the Constitution but is a God-given right that government cannot eliminate.

The freedom to worship was not guaranteed to you by the Constitution but was a God-given right that government cannot eliminate.

While these were added to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights along with several others, it was the Declaration that instituted the concept of having rights that could not be trampled by government of any form.

If government does step on our God-given rights, the people have a right to change or abolish that government.

There is no public debate on whether or not you can do what God has ordained you as a free person to be able to do.

The colonial leaders frequently said there was no difference from a tyrant 3,000 miles away and 3,000 tyrants only one mile away.

They believed man had the ability to govern himself, and no person has ever relinquished their rights to allow the government to dictate their personal liberties.

Freedom is just that — free.

It was not relegated to a secondary condition at the whim of the elected.

To the contrary, the elected were restricted to the bounds set forth in the Declaration and later enumerated in the Constitution.

Benjamin Franklin summed it up best when he said, “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for supper. Liberty is a well-armed sheep contesting the results.”

Rights are not determined by the majority. Your rights are and always will be yours. No one can take them from you, and it is the government’s responsibility to see to it that your rights are secured from anyone or any group, no matter how big or small.

Protecting an individual’s rights even in the face of the majority is the cornerstone of the American Dream. 

We do not need others to define our freedoms and liberties, nor do we need a government to overstep its bounds. If it attempts to do so, every person should rise against it.

Thomas Jefferson knew the dangers of expanding government and said, “The tree of liberty must be watered from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots alike.”

Government will always try to expand itself, to show the people how much we must rely on their wisdom and their guidance, but that is contrary to the definition established by the people of the United States of America in declaring their freedom.

Government is beholden to the people, not the people beholden to the government.

We provide our consent to be taxed, to allow regulations of trade, to make available public education and to provide for an army for the mutual protection of the nation. These are not socialist concepts but the foundation of a free and independent people.

But our God-given rights must always lie outside the bounds of government. The right to protest but not the right to destroy another person’s property. The right to defend ourselves. The right to free speech and free thought.

When a group or government tries to prevent these, they are violating the Declaration of Independence and by right ought to be removed and replaced.

Freedom is not about agreeing. It is about disagreeing and respecting the freedom to do so. It is about protecting the one from the many.

The Declaration established our nation and defined the unalienable rights of freedom.

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