New Orleans In my generation it would have been rare for school children not to learn the first section of the Declaration of Independence unanimously approved by the thirteen United States of America,
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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 institute among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
That whenever any Form of Government becomes 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 seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
That was usually about as far as any of us were required to go. Often, we didn’t get much past the “pursuit of Happiness,” but the Declaration then enumerates the grievances of the American people with the British government and the king. Several of these issues resonate today as well.
For example, look at the following from 1776 and see if you also find some similar complaints in 2018:
- He has refused to Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. [Think ethics, travel, transparency, self-dealing, and others.]
- He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. [Think health care, voting rights, gerrymandering, court appointments, environment, consumers, housing, and the poor among other.]
- He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither; and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. [Think border wall, child incarceration, family separation, criminalizing migration, restricting legal quotas, travel ban, and on and on and on.]
- For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world. [There are many opinions, but this was our founders’ position.]
See what I mean? These are not new problems between the governed and those who would be tyrants. These are old problems for a free and independent people with a new suit and tie.
We could quibble about specifics, but it starts at what we all have to agree are the core values of the United States of America and that is the recognition of something special in world history: “unalienable rights” accorded to all people equally. The signers of the Declaration were clear that they were talking about “all people” everywhere, not simply those within the thirteen states at that time. And, these rights, as the language made clear, include Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
How does that not include an income that allows life and policies that protect health? How does that not include the ability to vote without restraint and restriction? The ability to assemble and organize? The ability to speak? All of these are part of liberty. Equally unique in the Declaration is the recognition of the “pursuit of Happiness” which should help us also understand the need to bar any discrimination and instruct an understanding of the motivations of immigrants.
The Declaration is worth a good read in troubled times as mid-term elections loom ahead of us providing all of us an opportunity to stand for fundamental American values and oppose tyranny wherever it emerges.