Reflections on the Declaration of Independence, Part 4

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.

It seems right that I should finish up my reflections on the Declaration of Independence while it’s still July, though we ought to be carrying these principles with us at all times.

After establishing that truth can be known, that rights are derived from the Creator (and not given at the blessing of the government), that the purpose of government is to secure the rights of the people given by the Creator, and that governments derive their powers from “the consent of the governed,” the founding fathers made yet another radical declaration: “That whenever any From of Government become destructive to 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.”

We may not fully appreciate how radical this principle is. But, it comes from an age when most people, at least in the West, were living under governments that assumed that those governing were put in their offices by God, and that no one could legitimately remove them from office except God (presumably by death). The idea that those governing were answerable to the people, and that the people were empowered to change their government, was an idea whose time had not yet come — until the American Revolution. Even the French Revolution which, for some reason, takes precedence in many World History or Western Civilization classes, did not replace the monarchy with a meaningful and effective elected government, but with yet other autocrats who simply assumed the privileges they had taken from the monarch, which eventually devolved into violence and the Reign of Terror.

The United States Constitution is a remarkable document. One of the reasons it is is that it effectively arranges for the peaceful institution of a new government by free and fair elections. This is why controversies over recent elections are so potentially devastating to the nation. If people cannot have confidence that elections are free and fair, they will soon become distrustful of their government and inspired to either ignore the government and act as if they were not under the rule of government, which often leads to violence — and haven’t we been seeing a lot of that in our cities lately? — or they will actively work to overthrow their government and replace it. Hopefully, our political leaders will either regain some common sense and humility, or they will be replaced by others who have a better handle on the idea that political office is for the purpose of serving the people, and not themselves. Sadly, I don’t see that happening any time soon. What will happen? I don’t know. My fear is that political leaders will react in fear and attempt to clamp down on freedoms, or that more people will feel disinvested from government and take matters into their own hands, leading to even more violence. These two options are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, it could be that we’ll see a mix of the two.

I pray for my country. I pray for strong statesmen and stateswomen to rise up and take the reins and lead well, with purpose and humility. It’s not clear to me how this current mess will otherwise be sorted.

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

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