Reflections on the Declaration of Independence, Part 3

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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 unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–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.

Having reflected on the founding fathers’ claim regarding truth, all men being created equal, rights being endowed by the Creator, and unalienable rights, I will now continue my reflection on the Declaration of Independence with the next claim of the founding fathers: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, …”

What do our founding fathers claim is the purpose of government? They make it very clear: to secure the rights of citizens. Perhaps this isn’t the only purpose of government, but it’s the only one they mention in the Declaration, so it is, to them, the central purpose of government, and the purpose of government by which all other purposes are derived. In other words, everything the government does is, ultimately, supposed to be done in order to secure the rights of citizens. It isn’t to secure our livelihood, or to secure our feeling good about ourselves, or to secure our having as much money or as nice a house as our neighbor. It isn’t to secure that any particular citizen’s child goes to the best school, or that they drive the most expensive car, or that they’re free from all debt or illness or troubles. It isn’t even to secure that we all have a roof over our head and food in our stomach. It is, rather, to secure our rights. By securing our rights, government allows us to focus on doing what needs to be done in order to secure for ourselves all of the above.

The idea that the purpose of government is to secure our rights so that we can provide for ourselves is being lost in the claim by some today that it’s the purpose of government to provide for its citizens. Now, certainly there are those who are in no position to provide for themselves. It would be best if family or the church would provide for them. But, there will still be some who slip through the cracks. In those cases, certainly the government has the means to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. But, today, there are many who think that the government is there to provide for everyone. This isn’t a good idea. Why? Because what the government provides, the government can take away. Also, it’s not a good idea to have the government in control of such things as job placement, housing, access to food, healthcare or energy. To depend on the government to provide such things is to depend on an institution that was never created for such, and doesn’t do a particularly good job of it. Again, though, the real issue is: Do we want the government saying who gets what and why?

This is why the founding fathers limited the purpose of government to one of securing the rights of citizens. There are those out there who would attempt to suppress my rights, to stop me from being able to provide for myself and my family. The purpose of government is to keep these people or forces at bay. Being freed from the burden of having to secure my rights day after day, I am free to secure for myself and my family all that we need to live a good life.

Finally, just to be clear about who’s in charge, the founding fathers wrote that the government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. Really, this means that the people are the government. All of the laws and duties legislated by the government are done so at the consent of the people. No one may simply dictate what the people must or must not do. This consent is implied by the choice to live under the government of the United States. No one is going to come around and ask each and every one of us for our opinion or consent on matters. We give voice to our will by means of the vote, by petitioning our representatives, by re-calling elected office holders as needed, by protest, and a number of other means by which we can make our ideas known to those who represent us in a representative democracy, or republic. This is why it’s so important to be involved in the political life of one’s community, at least to know the issues and know where those running for office stand on those issues. This is why, too, it’s essential that the citizenry have confidence that elections are free and fair. Without that assurance, lacking that confidence, the people will feel that their voice has been muffled, or even that they have been removed from the political process.

That’s exactly how the founding fathers felt when they declared independence from England. Next time, I’ll reflect on why they felt the need to do so.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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