If you had to think of one document other than the Bible that people can most easily quote almost without thinking about it, that one document would be the Declaration of Independence. The comparison of this document to the Bible is appropriate. Not that the Declaration of Independence is holy in a religious sense, but it has a place of reverence in the hearts of the American people and in the history of the founding of this great nation.
“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.”
This one statement so beautifully illustrates some core principles that show why this document has such a deep impact on the American mind, heart and spirit. The statement that the truths in this document were indeed truths is a profound statement in its own right. The Declaration of Independence does suggest that what is being declared in those pages are theories, possibilities, or even political ideology. These are truths which put them on the same value as statements of values as often taught in a religious setting. Truths are eternal values that are not changed by circumstances, by whomever or whatever is handling the government of the land, or by the whim of politicians. These truths exist above those temporal earthly ideas and live on the plain of the eternal.
“Self evident” is a powerful phrase and it the document reflects the founder’s belief in what was called “natural law.” Natural law is the belief system that there are laws that are part of our natural state of existence and that they cannot be taken away (inalienable). These laws are our rights as creations of Almighty God and any government system must recognize these laws because they are above government. It is a basic belief system of the American system that ALL people are entitled to these rights and that they cannot be taken away.
The mention of a creator in this powerful document is very important because there are those who would maintain that the separation of church and state tells us that the government is at heart a secular institution. Clearly the founders did not lay the foundation of our country on that premise. They saw the inheritance we as Americans have in our rights and freedoms to be part of our legacy from God and as such, the government has a duty to defend.
The Declaration of Independence is truly an amazing document especially when you consider the “primitive” state of the nation when it was written by Thomas Jefferson and signed on July 2, 1776, to become the backbone of our American system of government. It became an often referenced and quoted document, even becoming a part of President Lincoln’s famous inaugural speech when he said with such deep conviction:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Because the words in this amazing document are such a deep part of our American heritage, American history and the American spirit, they are often a crucial part of any study of history in the schools in this country. That is why most school children in every state are so familiar with these words.
Perhaps it would do us all well to take some time once a year or so to read the Declaration of Independence either as a private moment of reflection or with our families. What a wonderful fourth of July tradition that would make! Then as we watch the fireworks and other festivities celebrating the birth of our country and its independence, we will have those words of this truly American document fresh in our heart to remind us that it was our creator that gave us our freedoms and independence and nobody has the right to ever take them away, but that’s just my take.