Over the holidays, I had a conversation with a man who interprets the Declaration of Independence very differently from how I teach the founding documents. We hit on three areas of disagreement with the Declaration that I thought might interest you.
My view is the “point,” and his is the “counterpoint.” See what you think.
Point: Everybody in the eighteenth century intrinsically knew that we have a God-given right to life, liberty, and property (pursuit of happiness). It was as common as pizza to “know” this. If people disagree that we are born with these rights, there is a huge problem between those who believe we have God-given rights and those who think humans grant you your rights. Americans sought to make our God-given rights a foundation of our country.
Counterpoint: So many people in the eighteenth-century world had no rights. It was self-evident by experience that they didn’t have rights. The reason they declared their rights is that they didn’t have them. People even fought in favor of the monarchy. (They liked it that way?)
Rebuttal: That’s the point! Americans wanted to bring to fruition the reality that our rights are God-given, not human-granted. So, they fought a War for Independence and won the right to form a government that recognized their God-given right to life, liberty, and property (pursuit of happiness).
Pursuit of Happiness
Point: The pursuit of happiness is about property, owning your own stuff, choosing your occupation, to retain the fruits of your labor. Property is more than “doing what I want to do when I want to do it.” You can pursue happiness apart from the king (head of state).
No counterpoint to the above.
Point: “They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights….” If the Creator does not endow us with rights that can’t be taken away, then where do our rights come from? Do they come from another person who puts their clothes on the same way you and I do?
Counterpoint: We are not endowed with rights by the Creator. The Founders, he says, believed in a deistic god that created the universe and then stepped back. In fact, the term they used is “nature” and “nature’s god.”
Rebuttal: That the Founders believed in a deistic god is a modern-day misconception. Historical records show that all but three Founders were church attendees of various denominations with personal writings that reflected their beliefs.
Second, the Founders referred to “The Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” which this gentleman misquoted. Actually, the term “Laws of Nature” means “the laws of conscience written on our hearts.” Even a toddler knows it is wrong to physically take his brother’s toy and hit him with it. The laws of nature are written on his heart. “The Laws of Nature’s God” refers to the Ten Commandments.
In closing, I like a conversation like this one because it opens my eyes to the lack of cohesive teaching on the founding documents and how the meaning is being changed over time. https://civicsandcitizenship.org/a-day-with-the-declaration/
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship.🇺🇸
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