We celebrate July 4 as Independence Day. But historians will tell you that the deed was actually done on July 2. That’s the day the delegates voted to approve the Declaration.
Either way, it is the founding document of our nation (not the constitution, which is our set of national bylaws, but is not our founding document).
Many credit Lincoln with restoring the declaration to its rightful place in the center of our history. During the years prior to the Civil War it had been somewhat cast aside in national conversation.
But his insistence on its fundamental truth–the equality of persons–formed the foundation of his argument for no more slavery (even though for many years until the nation was deeply in the ugly war did he go the whole way and seek to end slavery).
As I muse about this magnificent document today–enunciating grand principles we still seek to live up to and listing one grievance against the King of England after another–I am struck by how some have twisted its fundamental message. They claim, quite without much foundation in the document itself, that it is government that is the source of all trouble, and that therefore government must be made very small.
Of course, that is nonsense. It is tyranny that is the issue. A government that serves the broad interests of its citizens well and is consented to by them is not , by definition, tyrannical. On the other hand, a government that serves primarily the powerful and the rich is, by definition, tyrannical. The government of King George III served first and foremost the interests of the mercantile class and manufacturing interests of England and the King. When the colonists realized this, they stopped consenting to that government.
I am grateful that our founders–in the Declaration and in the Constitution–as well as in the earlier years of our Republic, as in the Civil War–provided for a system of organic government and laws, a structure and process that adapts to the needs of each day.