A close look at the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence


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For the Fourth of July: Link here. The author discusses it phrase by phrase, placing the words in their historical context so there will be no confusion. For anyone who is intellectually honest, however, I think the meaning is quite clear.

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.

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21 comments

  • ken anthony

    the reason the government exists is to secure our rights

    This is the central point and greatly needs an explanation.

    Govt. has precisely one purpose and no other. Govt. must protect people from other govts. That’s it. By doing only this our rights are secured by law. Law is NOT govt.

    Law, done right, is the protection of liberty. Liberty being an essential quality for defining what is and is not a right. A thing that takes away liberty from one group is not a right for another.

    It’s very simple.

  • LocalFluff

    Key phrase is:
    “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”
    Did they leave out the word “majority” (of the governed) because of lack of ink?

  • Alex

    ” ….. that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

    What is if there is no “Creator”, who could sustain this proclamation? What is if there is only the nature, which manifests itself as the will to survive or to power?

    “pursuit of Happiness.”

    The state of happiness is usually overrated. Purpose of life is to overcome yourself by fighting and struggling, which includes a lot of suffering. Without suffering no real advancement. Happiness is an objective made for slaves.

  • LocalFluff

    @Alex,
    We evidently have the endowment regardless of how it came about. No one knows. It’s still a big mystery. I’ve googled around a bit on that topic, because it seems to me that there might be some hidden assumption there that might undermine all thinking and even logic itself if it isn’t well understood. And no one has come up with any explanation that looks even superficially promising. I have no idea myself, still here I am. Makes me feel stupid. I even asked my mother and she said that, well, your father was as charming as you are. I doubt even Sherlock Holmes could get any further with that investigation.

    Happiness can be found in arduous achievements. Don’t you think POTUS is happy? Comparing himself with anyone and proving himself to be the better part of it. When you’ve proven to be better than everyone, you win by acclamation. That’s what the Olympics were made for.

  • Garry

    Note that the right is “pursuit of happiness,” rather than “happiness”; all men are endowed with the right to pursue what makes them happy.

    The original was “life, liberty, and property,” but some of the founding fathers were against slavery, and slaves were considered property; they recognized that they would not be able to abolish slavery in the original Constitution, and thought the best course of action was to get all colonies to sign on to the Constitution and leave the slavery issue until later.

  • Alex

    @LocalFluff: A special gift to you:

    The Swedish Enigma

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnA1O6XZx_k

  • Alex

    @Gary: The right approach is not to search for happiness, but for challenges. It is the heroic approach, rightfull manly.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLkeIACfi4Y

  • Cotour

    Alex:

    It matters not whether there is in fact a “Creator” or a “God” or not.

    As I have pointed out in earlier posts, the Constitution is a concept, a function, a distillation of the human mind, and within this concept it is recognized that American citizens / human beings have rights that are a natural function of being born and NOT a function of something that is bestowed upon an individual BY government.

    My, your, our human rights PRECEDE government and are not a function OF government.

    While your question is very existential, asking whether there is a “God” or “Creator”, it is really a part of some other conversation, the Constitution and what it formulates and recognizes exists in spite of the answer to your question.

    This is an example of the brilliance of the Founders, they have perpetrated unassailable logic on the world and when this is properly understood by the people they will be forever free of “unnecessary” interference from government. But as we all know there is a lot of perversion and corruption that goes on in the interpretation of their brilliance and what “necessary” government is.

    And still they are unassailable.

  • Garry

    Alex, I think that “pursuit of happiness” was written be be as broad as possible, and encompasses pursuing challenges.

    I agree with you that pursuing challenges is the right approach; in my eyes, this is what leads to happiness.

  • Alex

    @Cotour:

    I think it is a kind of religious belief that there are natural rights for new born men. There are not such “natural rights”. Your rights are created and granted by that society or those group of people (government, people, nation or whoever what set the rules including your rights), which exist in the moment of your birth. You should be able in a good society to extent your personal rights (compared to others) , because a honored or well recognized man, who achieved much for your people as others. For example your vote should count more if have been served in the army.

  • Cotour

    Alex:

    You are not absorbing what I am pointing out to you. (I understand that these concepts can be difficult). What the Founders of America created is not what you describe, it is not dependent on belief in a religion, it is paradigm changing thinking on the subject of governance and power and the nature of man.

    That society we are talking about, America, through the Constitution, describes the rights of the people in fact exist before the existence of government. If your rights preexist government than government is not what gives you those rights. So therefore the government can not take away what does not come from government. This one detail is thee most important concept to understand.

    Q: Define “Good” society. And then describe where that good society comes from. Refer to all known history before you answer these questions.

    The Founders actually ultimately reject religion, any religion, there is “freedom of religion”, and that also means that you are free to not believe in anything. What if you have no religion? Do you still have rights? YES. A religion or the belief in a God or a Creator has nothing to do with whether a human being is born with rights.

    You might take some time and think a bit deeper about this.

  • Alex

    @ Cotour:

    I am sorry, but in your arrogance prevents that you understand the simple truth/idea. You should read my text again. There exist no “natural” rights, which are a natural part of or attached to new born baby as you assume, or which may sent by God.

    All rights, which the new human being can use later in his life, were granted and created by other men (in practice just those which rule), which decided to do so. They may decide in future also different and give the baby no right at all.

  • LocalFluff

    Alex
    “The Swedish Enigma”
    At least we’re pretty good at hockey! You’ve gotta give us that still. I tried it out as a child, and my priest encouraged me, but he believed too much. I quit somewhere between discovering that the ice and those boards and the clubs AND the players are hard, and while keeping most of my original teeth. I prefer chess. I heard there’s some Scandinavian who’s pretty good at that thoughtful ritual moving of small wooden pieces.

  • Cotour

    “All rights, which the new human being can use later in his life, were granted and created by other men ”

    Alex, the Constitution is exactly the opposite of this sentence.

    This is another example of the brilliance of the Founders, they did not create rights, they identified rights. Our system demands that the government, which does not bestow and rights on the individual must abide by and respect the identified rights of the people.

    No president, no King, no “God” can change that without due process of the law. You are assumed innocent, you can not be arrested without cause, your property can not be confiscated without cause and due process, your speech can not be banned, you are not compelled to have a religion etc, etc.

    This may not be true where you come from, but it is in America. Its not perfect, nothing is perfect, but its theee best that has ever been devised.

  • wayne

    Alex-
    [referencing 11:40am]

    The United States was founded upon Judeo-Christian & Natural Law religious/political belief’s. It should come as no surprise we place particular emphasis upon the Individual and not the Group.

    What We Believe,
    Part 4: Natural Law
    (a Bill Whittle Short)
    https://youtu.be/7TSiJ2Gp058
    (9:49)

    Nope– don’t care if one served in the military– one person, one vote. We’re not recreating Plato’s Republic and we’re not into ‘class-warfare,’ –that’s all European/Russian crap-o-la stuff.

  • Edward

    ken anthony wrote: “Govt. has precisely one purpose and no other. Govt. must protect people from other govts. That’s it.

    There is a second purpose of government: to act as a disinterested third party in order to peacefully resolve disputes. These disputes can be torts or crimes.

    The third purpose is to keep out of the way of its citizens, which really means protecting the citizen’s rights — even protecting them from the government itself. It is this third purpose that most governments do not understand and most often violate. It is the violation of this third purpose that results in tyrannies.

    LocalFluff asked: “Key phrase is: ‘deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed’ Did they leave out the word ‘majority’ (of the governed) because of lack of ink?

    No. Apparently, Charlie Martin did not explain this very clearly. The just powers of government are not bestowed by God, as many monarchical governments were set up. They are not usurped by the government, as happens with any tyranny. They are “granted to” the government by those who are being governed.

    People invented the concept of government in order to provide the three purposes that are listed above, in my reply to ken anthony. Government is invented due to the communal, gregarious nature of humans. Protections were required, adjudication was needed, and liberty for all was expected by those who created government. The Founding Fathers understood this.

    Tyrants do not.

    Alex asked: “What is if there is no “Creator”, who could sustain this proclamation? What is if there is only the nature, which manifests itself as the will to survive or to power?

    Then nature is the Creator.

    Alex asked: “‘pursuit of Happiness.’ The state of happiness is usually overrated. Purpose of life is to overcome yourself by fighting and struggling, which includes a lot of suffering.

    The pursuit of happiness is not the state of happiness. The state of happiness is the goal of the pursuit, and happiness is not a right guaranteed by government. The right to the pursuit of happiness is a right that is protected by government — it is a natural right.

    If challenges make you happy, then pursue those challenges.

    Natural rights are natural. Often they are rights that even animals have. Birds have the right to sing, lions have the right to roar, and even babies have the right to cry. These rights are natural, bestowed not by man but by nature. The right to communicate cannot be taken away by governments, but people can grant governments the ability to punish anyone exercising that right — by consent of the governed.

    Alex’s comment that “rights are created and granted by … society” shows that he does not understand the rights that even nature grants to animals, and he is more in favor of tyranny than liberty — whether or not he knows it — and a tyranny by those who served in the military — a military tyranny. The military should protect, not rule, the citizenry. Alex is of the mind that governments have the natural right to take rights away, by changing or merely by removing the grant, and thinks that anyone who disagrees with him must be arrogant rather than being educated. This is ignorance, not arrogance, on Alex’s part.

    People created language without the freedom to speak being granted to them. They just did it, naturally. They reported events — news — without permission by government. They worshiped gods without governmental permission. These are natural rights, and existed before government was invented. They are not bestowed upon us by governments.

    King George thought that he was the grantor of rights, because he did not understand natural rights or the three purposes of government. That is why he turned out to be a tyrant.

    A major difference between the US Constitution and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that the Constitution understands that rights naturally belong to We the People, and the UN believes that it bestows — declares –those rights. Article 29 item 3 of the UDHR says that the UN may take away any of its rights at a whim. The authors of the UDHR did not understand what rights are — or why they are natural, not bestowed by governing bodies. This is why the UN behaves like a tyrant without citizens.

  • Anthony Domanico

    Edward,

    I enjoy reading your comments. Your previous comment was missing only one item. You forgot to put “mic drop” at the end! Lol

  • Anthony Domanico

    Edward,

    I may have completely misunderstood your argument as I am sleep deprived and not as smart as you so I apologize in advance, but could it be argued that there is a natural right to choose whether or not one should be governed? Thanks.

  • Anthony Domanico

    Sorry to ramble but it seems to me that there is fundamentally only one reason for government and it’s to protect us from human nature.

  • Cotour

    Anthony:

    If you have a simple society of two people you have government (lower case g).

    The purpose of more complex governments / societies, as it is with the more simple ones, is to somehow solve the collective survival equation and it comes in many different varieties and flavors. Throughout history this equation has been solved using the King / Chief / War lord / familial lineage type model for the most part.

    The primary historical job of what ever type of government / society we are talking about is to 1. Ensure society’s / cultures survival. 2. Define and secure borders / develop military power. 3. Acquire and conserve treasure.

    Then came the Founders of America and the concept of the Declaration Of Independence and the Constitution.

    The Founders provide for the first three basic requirements in the Constitution and include in it in addition as a fundamental component of its design the counter balance to the nature of man related to power and governance.

    What is the Constitution?

    The Constitution is the counter balance to the nature of man related to the abuse of power and governance.

  • Edward

    Anthony Domanico wrote: “Your previous comment was missing only one item. You forgot to put “mic drop” at the end!

    I tend to treat delicate electronics gently, so I don’t purposefully drop microphones even when it is appropriate or virtual. This may come from my years of working on delicate spacecraft.

    Anthony Domanico asked: “I may have completely misunderstood your argument as I am sleep deprived and not as smart as you so I apologize in advance, but could it be argued that there is a natural right to choose whether or not one should be governed? Thanks.

    1) Don’t worry about not being as smart as I am, because I am the smartest person in the world. Of course, I am not nearly as smart as I think I am, but that still leaves plenty of room for me to be the smartest person in the world. (Possibly the most egotistical and most humble, too.)

    2) Anarchy is a valid choice. The only reason to have a governing body is for the three reasons that I mentioned, and if there is no need for government, then there is no need to create one. However, the first time a rule is created, the anarchy is over, and the society must figure out who will enforce the rule and how he will enforce it. That means even more rules, and a government quickly cascades into existence.

    Anthony Domanico wrote: “Sorry to ramble but it seems to me that there is fundamentally only one reason for government and it’s to protect us from human nature.

    Your rambling hit the nail squarely on the head. You made an excellent observation. I will have to remember to use that line the next time I make that argument.

    It is human nature to covet what someone else has, which is why the primary reason for government is protection. It is human nature to have disputes, which is why the secondary reason for government is peaceful resolution of those disputes. It is human nature to personally control a situation or territory, which is why the tertiary reason for government is to ensure liberty from the tyrants in government.

    It is human nature to exercise one’s own rights in such a way that someone else’s rights get violated. Each of us wants complete freedom, but freedoms often conflict when more than one person is involved. Be free, but be responsible.

    The reason that the Declaration of Independence is such an important document around the world is that it nicely explains what governance is about and what it is not about. It explains, in terms of the need for governance, why the colonists felt the need to revolt against their king. It explains that government must take a form that those who are governed are willing to tolerate. It explains that government is supposed to exist for the benefit of the people, not the other way around.

    The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were written that way because the Founding Fathers had to think through what it is that We the People wanted and why we wanted it. Unlike most revolutions, the US Revolution was not done because someone else wanted to govern a territory but because the government was seen as abusive and tyrannical, and wanted a return to the freedoms that the colonists sought by going to America. These two documents join England’s Magna Carta in importance, worldwide, for defining the proper governance of a people. It is unfortunate that United Nations’ documents are written as though they are for the convenience of the UN rather than for the convenience of the world’s peoples.

    The grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence and the rights listed in the Constitution remind us all (worldwide) of the purpose of government and what it is not to be infringed. The rights listed in the Bill of Rights are not granted to the people but naturally belong to the people and may not be infringed by the government.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZSQJxc_P4o (7 minutes: We The People 2.0, part 5. Government)

    It is specifically because the US was founded in the way that it was, with careful thought about what governments are for and what they are not for, is the reason why the United States population was free to become so great and why it was free to become so exceptional. The Preamble to the Constitution explains much about the reason for governance, especially the end: “… and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    As Chris noted in another thread: “We also have the freedom to fail; and that is maybe the most important freedom we have.” Amen. (I will have to remember to use that line, too, the next time I make that argument.)

    Never before and never since has a nation been founded solely on the premise that the purpose of government is for the benefit of the governed, not the benefit of the government.

    That truly — and literally — makes the United States exceptional.

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