Monday, July 4, 2011


I encourage people to read the full text of the Declaration of Independence today. It's a document furious at a King who denied the American people their right to responsible self-government. Too many people these days appropriate the independence movement for their own modern political purposes, and I think it's worth reading it and realizing it's not some libertarian, anti-Obama charter. It's simply a document that says (1.) we are free men, (2.) we will choose how to govern ourselves, (3.) we won't accept anyone that will obstruct our self-governance, and (4.) we won't suffer a tyrant to rule us without our assent.


IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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.


  1. Since it makes an argument about dissolving the bonds of government that makes it fairly libertarian; only libertarians really take that idea seriously anymore.

  2. Interesting little factoid; the Federalists so disliked the Republicans (and Jefferson obviously) that they did not celebrate Independence Day.

    Anyway, I'm with most current scholars on the text; this is basically a document meant to establish the legality of what they propose to do - revolt against the British monarchy - that's the main reason trying to find any contemporary meaning (beyond the general stuff one might expect) is kind of odd. It is a very context specific text once one gets past the preamble.

  3. This discussion will only be complete when Professor Callahan shows up. ;)

  4. ".. it's not some libertarian, anti-Obama charter..."

    It's not some pro-Obama charter either. So what's the point of your statement?

  5. Obama is doing a lot of the things about which they're complaining, like e.g. trying to kill an American citizen without a jury trial. But I can see why you keep trying to defend Obama against unfair attacks; there's not much better things to do with your time. :)

  6. "...the Federalists so disliked the Republicans (and Jefferson obviously) that they did not celebrate Independence Day."


  7. @Bob Murphy

    Right, because defending Obama was the main point of the post. Way to go there, big guy.

  8. Anonymous - I agree - it's not some pro-Obama either. But - while I'm sure it occurs - it's not as often that I've heard Obama supporters say that Republicans or Tea Partiers are turning their backs on the values of the founders. I don't generally see Obama supporters wrap themselves in the legacy of the founding in the same way.

    Trust me - if they did I'd note that too.

  9. Daniel,

    "But - while I'm sure it occurs - it's not as often that I've heard Obama supporters say that Republicans or Tea Partiers are turning their backs on the values of the founders."

    When people aren't in power they turn to the Constitution than they do when they are in power. During the Bush presidency the left was full of all manner of rhetoric about the founders, the constitution, etc., how it was being violated, etc.

    "Trust me - if they did I'd note that too."

    Do you realize how entirely unconvincing this sounds?


    From the 1790s through 1815 it was the Republicans alone who celebrated the Declaration of Independence and toasted as its author their leader, whom Joel Barlow called “the immortal Jefferson.” The Republicans honored the Declaration, however, not for its promotion of individual rights and equality, as would be the case for all political parties after 1815, but for its denunciation of the British monarchy and its assertion that the new nation had assumed a “separate and equal Station . . . among the Powers of the Earth”—something the Republicans thought the Anglophilic Federalists were reluctant to acknowledge. Indeed, as late as 1823 Jefferson was still fulminating over the way the Federalists treated the Declaration, seeing it, he said, “as being a libel on the government of England . . . [that] should now be buried in utter oblivion to spare the feelings of our English friends and Angloman fellow citizens.”50

    Wood, Gordon S. (2009). Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford History of the United States) (Kindle Locations 11644-11650).

    I think we underestimate just how much nasty the division between the republicans and the federalists were at the time, how much that had to do with competing visions of the nation, as well as cleavages to France and Britain.

  10. In the interest of fairness and reasoned discussion, everyone should also read a dissenting opinion, such as Hutchinson's Strictures Upon the Declaration of Independence.

  11. Jefferson wrote these words in the Declaration of Independence:

    "The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States."

    I can think of no more misleading political assessment uttered by any leader in the history of the United States. No words having such great impact historically in this nation were less true. No political bogeymen invoked by any political sect as "the liar of the century" ever said anything as verifiably false as these words.

    Check out Gary North's fantastic article refuting many of the myths around the time of the Revolution:

  12. James,

    As was pointed out, taxes were only after 16 prior complaints, which is all Gary North focuses on. I read a book a while back on the French and Indian War, Fred Anderson may have been the author, and he argued the colonial problems with Great Britain really began then (if I'm remembering correctly). One problem, shown in the movie "Last of the Mohicans," was the colonials were pressed into service against the French while their families were terrorized up and down the frontier by the Indians, who were stirred up by the French. Naturally they wanted to stay and defend their families. Plenty of resentments were building up with the colonials against Great Britain.

    Dennis Baker

  13. When people aren't in power they turn to the Constitution than they do when they are in power. During the Bush presidency the left was full of all manner of rhetoric about the founders, the constitution, etc., how it was being violated, etc.



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