Monday is the Fourth of July. Independence Day.
It marks the anniversary of the day our Founding Fathers emerged from their deliberations in the sweltering Philadelphia Summer to announce to the world that:
these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
Though short and to the point, the Declaration is a weighty document. It is one of the most magnificent treatises in all of human history, setting forth the determinative case not only for the Colonies to break free of the Crown—but for all mankind to take note of its own God-given power.
I have argued repeatedly on this site that all human beings have the unalienable rights demanded by the Declaration, that one need not be an American citizen to have the right of conscience that the First Amendment protects—not grants, but protects. And I have been argued with in the comments section by those who would jealously hold those rights for Americans alone, who would deny to other human beings on the earth the rights our Founders laid claim to merely because they were free men.
This is the greatest explanation of individual rights ever produced:
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…
“All men are created equal.”
ALL— not “some”. ALL.
This means not just the citizens of a nation that did not exist, but all humans that walk upon the earth—Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, Iranians—all. And it is not dependent on any situation, accident of birth, subsequent behaviors, choices, beliefs, or behaviors. ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.
This equality applies to Christians and Jews, Muslims and Mormons, Scientologists and Seventh-Day Adventists. Many of these groups didn’t exist at the time the Declaration was written. Nor did Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, or Greens. What you believe, how you behave, your economic status—even, as the question was settled in 1865, your race, and as we determined by reason, your gender–has NO effect on your equal status. Every human being ever born is no less than, and no better than, any other.
Moreover, this equality—and the subsequent rights it carries with it—cannot be given or taken by man or man’s government. The nature of being created endows us with these rights. Man cannot create. Government cannot create. Only God can create. Only God can endow. Only God can take these rights, when He takes the very life He created.
These “unalienable” rights (rights which cannot be separated from you, as a created and equal being) include—but are not limited to, for that is the implication of “among”—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not the result of happiness, but the right of a free person to seek after that which brings joy to his or her soul. It is the liberty God grants us to find our way in the world, with His guidance and our choice.
This is why we must be patriots—but not nationalists. For, though our values and virtues are superior to those of other nations, as proven by their effects and the fact that most of the world imitates and aspires to them—our specific demographics are not. An American of German descent is not more of an American than one of Mexican descent. Every individual is responsible to God for his or her actions. Every individual is granted by God the right to choose those actions.
Moreover, the purpose of government is “to secure these rights.” It does not exist to hand out income, but to protect your right to seek an income. It does not exist to regulate your actions, but to facilitate your freedom. The purpose of government is to keep you alive and free. Later, in the Constitution, the Founders would enumerate the responsibilities of government. Later still, the Bill of Rights would make explicit some of our inherent rights—and for good measure included not one, but two Amendments reminding the national government it could not do what it was not told to do.
This is what we celebrate on Independence Day. The bravery of individuals who conceived of a world where free people were the equal of Kings, Emperors—and, yes, presidents. The success of their descendants in building a nation where that was possible—not walls to keep the rest of the world from that freedom. So, enjoy your brats and fireworks this weekend, and remember this all began with an incredible idea and a band of patriots claiming the freedoms that were theirs—and are ours—merely because we live.
Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hyku/3579219567; Josh Hallett; CC BY-SA 2.0