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 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.
There are four clauses of this second sentence of the Declaration. These are:
1) We hold these Truths to be self evident: that all Men are created equal;
2) that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness-
3) that to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the Governed;
4) that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or 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 hold these Truths to be self evident: that all Men are created equal;…
A self evident truth is, as my teacher told me (from Boethius), one in which the truth of the predicate is inherent in the definition of the subject. The whole is larger than any one of its parts, for example. So, if one knows what it means to be a “man, one knows these four things, 1 that they are created equal: They are, as Lincoln explains, not equal in every respect- how could that be?, but equal in this sense, that, 2) they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” that is, equally endowed by their creator with unalienable rights. The Founders are thinking a lot out of John Locke, whose second treatise is worth reading here, as is said of Harrington. equally endowed with Rights, examples of which are the rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. But something very interesting is going on in this principle, for as is said, “equality is not a right but a principle.” They are referencing the rational essence, (classical tradition), or the image of God in man, (Biblical tradition), that is the basis of or reason for the Law. without saying it. This is what it means to say that man as such is endowed with rights. It is not contrary to law to kill a chicken, nor are the adulteries of chickens contrary to the male and female of the image of God in man (Genesis 1:26; 9:6). Jefferson, who wrote the draft, does not even say “Creator”, but that was added, I think by Franklin and the committee. Equality means that all men, evidenced in the ability to speak (Aristotle, Politics, I) have and partake of a rational essence. So in American law, murder is not wrong because contrary to the law of Noah and Moses, but because it violated the right to life of a human, whether citizen of foreigner. Franklin added “Self evident,” replacing Jefferson’s “sacred and undeniable.” But Jefferson did say “Happiness,” as, famously, John Locke does not: Jefferson and Franklin both join the modern political theorists who talk of “rights” with the classical tradition, for whom the talk of rights” in this modern sense is extremely rare or non-existent. The Lockean formulation replaces happiness as the end, from Aristotle’s Ethics, with property as the politically relevant end toward which our lives and liberties are directed.
The primary meaning of equality is contrary to, or the contrary of, the British assertion of inherited privilege due to noble birth. We Americans say that a right to rule by superior birth is hooey: One man is not born to be saddled, and another booted and spurred to ride him, as Jefferson famously writes. This of course includes racial equality, but that thought had barely begun to occur to men like Franklin and Jefferson, at just this time. In his draft of the Declaration, edited out to get the document approved by all states including the south, in the list of the crimes of King George evincing him to to be a tyrant, was this sentence:
He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation hither this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain, determined to keep an open market where MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this excrable commerce, and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
…Ja, I think ole Jeffie knew he was going to get some editing here, but wanted to make sure he got his two cents in.
In class here we would pause while some corker invariably pipes in “But Jefferson owned slaves!” That is the only thing the Oxy-stupor-ed Americans know about Jefferson or the better half of their history. For Brevity’s sake, I will simply say to the most sophisticated of scholars: Find a more stunning, more potent, or even an earlier statement of racial equality from the Eighteenth Century. But on the question of the Jefferson household, see the concluding section of my Jefferson essay, there in the Menu affront the apple tree on the web page!
III. that – that to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the Governed;
The purpose of government is to secure rights Where no ones rights are being violated, government has no concern. Of religion, Jefferson famously says that what another man believes, “neither beaks my leg, no picks my pocket.” In his letter to Francis Gilmer, Jeffie writes, to paraphrase, : “Our legislators are not sufficiently appraised of the limits of their powers. It is to secure our natural rights, and to take none of them from us.” One has no right to violate the rights of another, as the right to life, in murder, or the right to property, in theft. Beyond the duty of taxation, this is all the government may require of him. This, “to secure these rights,” is the seventh purpose, lacking in the Preamble of the Constitution, that required the addition of a Bill of Rights.
Consent is of course secured by legitimate elections, and these confer the legitimacy of offices. There is no finer example of the Lockean founding than the Mayflower Compact, signed off the coast just before they landed. The founders have a developed form of the social contact theory other forms of which occur in Locke and Rousseau, whose “Will of the people” holds the place held by our “We the people, though ours has more to do with consent. Our two party system is finely balanced so long as free elections work: one party or the other might take up issues in the competition of parties, as the people develop and discover the concerns that are the various platform issues. Because of this fine balance, modern marketing techniques can be used to turn the vote in a series of elections from the primaries through the election, electoral college, appeals processes of impeachment and Supreme Court cases, even by a foreign power, and in combination with Gangsterism and intimidation could indeed control and direct U. S. politics in direction disregarding all but its own imagined interests. That could happen.
IV. that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or 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.
Safety and Happiness are the ends or purposes for which a people institutes a form of government, and when they do not like it, Consent requires that they change it., but “these ends” refers to the Rights which it is the purpose of government to secure.
“Whenever” means of course not the daily soft despotism that we incur through the normal ignorance of human government, our own failure to elect a Congress not dependent on campaign contributions, and such, but rather, real tyranny: circumstances such as that of the tyranny of this George kid over the colonies. It was not nice, as is well demonstrated in that Mel Gibson movie, perhaps for the first time. Our constitution has an Amendment procedure that pre-empts the need to do for example what France keeps doing, and is why our Constitution is- Surprise!- the oldest in the world. Rome amended its unwritten Constitution at great peril, as the addition of the tribunes of the plebs brought the “many” into a share in the government with the “few” is Shown in Plutarch and Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, if I recall. It is not easy to change the Constitution, requiring 2/3 majorities to propose and 3/4 majorities to ratify a proposed Amendment. But when the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments are as if suspended, with no powers exercised at all to secure the six clauses of the First Amendment (Establishment, Expression, (Speech Press, Assembly and Petition), security in our homes, persons, papers and effects, and liberty to proceed without impediment so long as we violate the right s of no man, and the equal protection of laws, required of both State and Federal governments, when the channels of free politics are controlled, collected and blocked, political circumstances and characters might develop which approach “Whenever.”
Becker, Carl. The Declaration of Independence. Vantage, 1922, 1942, 1970.