It's Independence Day, and for me it's time to get out the flag and dust off the founding document, the Declaration of Independence. The two go together because the flag represents the nation that the Declaration brought forth on the Fourth of July, 1776. The Declaration of Independence is a remarkable document. It doesn't just announce the political separation of the United States from Great Britain. It makes a universal statement about the rights of humankind and the proper relationship between the people and their government.
We all recognize the first part of Thomas Jefferson's soaring words: "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."
But the next part is just as important and I think under-appreciated: "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 shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."
And there you have it. The entire philosophy of American government distilled into about 100 words. The people have rights. The purpose of government is to protect these rights. If the government fails this purpose the people have the right to change it.
The Declaration doesn't recognize the divine right of kings, the dictatorship of the proletariat, authoritarianism or a theocracy. It calls for what Abraham Lincoln referred to as government of the people, by the people and for the people.