The Price of Liberty
“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —
Thank God for American Patriots
"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion." --Thomas Jefferson (1825)
“It is important for all Americans to remember that our Declaration of Independence states that every person has the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It also states that these rights come from our Creator, and that governments are formed to secure these rights for all their citizens. And we believe every human life has value, and we pray for the day when every child is welcome in life and protected into law... As we move forward, we’ve all got to remember that a true Culture of Life cannot be built by changing laws alone. We’ve all got to work hard to change hearts... The Sanctity of Life is written in the hearts of all men and women. And so I say, go forth with confidence that a cause rooted in human dignity and appealing to the best instincts of our citizens cannot fail.” —President George W. Bush
The Declaration of Independence
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 and 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 British 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.
JOHN HANCOCK, President
CHARLES THOMSON, Secretary.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence sat in Independence Hall at Philadelphia, contemplating losing their heads or being hanged. Their courage wavered. The document sat there unsigned. An extraordinary catalyst was needed to move them to action. An unknown man rose and gave an electrifying speech. He disappeared soon after.
By signing the Declaration, all were guilty of high treason under British law. The penalty for high treason was to be hanged by the neck until unconscious, then cut down and revived, then disemboweled and cut into quarters. The head and quarters were at the disposal of the crown.
No wonder they wavered! No wonder they discussed back and forth for days on end before signing the document that carried so grave a penalty. An old legend dramatizes the story of the one who galvanized the delegates and gave them the courage to sign that document.
But still there is doubt–and that pale-faced man, shrinking in one corner, squeaks out something about axes, scaffolds, and a–gibbet!
THE SPEECH OF THE UNKNOWN.
This reading is taken from the book Washington and His Generals: or, Legends of the Revolution by George Lippard, published in 1847.
"Gibbet!" echoes a fierce, bold voice, that startles men from their seats–and look yonder! A tall slender man rises, dressed–although it is summer time–in a dark robe. Look how his white hand undulates as it is stretched slowly out, how that dark eye burns, while his words ring through the hall. (We do not know his name, let us therefore call his appeal)
"Gibbet? They may stretch our necks on all the gibbets in the land–they may turn every rock into a scaffold–every tree into a gallows, every home into a grave, and yet the words on that Parchment can never die!
"They may pour our blood on a thousand scaffolds, and yet from every drop that dyes the axe, or drips on the sawdust of the block, a new martyr to Freedom will spring into birth!
"The British King may blot out the Stars of God from His sky, but he cannot blot out His words written on the Parchment there! The works of God may perish–His Word, never!
"These words will go forth to the world when our bones are dust. To the slave in the mines they will speak–hope–to the mechanic in his workshop–freedom–to the coward-kings these words will speak, but not in tones of flattery. No, no! They will speak like the flaming syllables on Belshazzar's wall–
THE DAYS OF YOUR PRIDE AND GLORY ARE NUMBERED!
THE DAYS OF JUDGMENT AND REVOLUTION DRAW NEAR!
Yes, that Parchment will speak to the Kings in a language sad and terrible as the trump of the Archangel. You have trampled on mankind long enough.
At last the voice of human woe has pierced the ear of God, and called His Judgment down!
You have waded on to thrones over seas of blood–you have trampled on to power over the necks of millions–you have turned the poor man's sweat and blood into robes for your delicate forms, into crowns for your anointed brows.
Now Kings–now purpled Hangmen of the world–for you come the days of axes and gibbets and scaffolds–for you the wrath of man–for you the lightnings of God!–
"Look! How the light of your palaces on fire flashes up into the midnight sky!
"Now Purpled Hangmen of the world–turn and beg for mercy!
"Where will you find it?
"Not from God, for you have blasphemed His laws!
"Not from the People, for you stand baptized in their blood!
"Here you turn, and lo! a gibbet!
"There–and a scaffold looks you in the face.
"All around you–death–and nowhere pity!
"Now executioners of the human race, kneel down, yes, kneel down upon the sawdust of the scaffold–lay your perfumed heads upon the block–bless the axe as it falls–the axe that you sharpened for the poor man's neck!
"Such is the message of that Declaration to Man, to the Kings of the world! And shall we falter now? And shall we start back appalled when our feet press the very threshold of Freedom? Do I see quailing faces around me, when our wives have been butchered–when the hearthstones of our land are red with the blood of little children?
"What are these shrinking hearts and faltering voices here, when the very Dead of our battlefields arise, and call upon us to sign that Parchment, or be accursed forever?
"Sign! if the next moment the gibbet's rope is round your neck!
Sign! if the next moment this hall rings with the echo of the falling axe!
Sign! By all your hopes in life or death, as husbands–as fathers–as men–sign your names to the Parchment or be accursed forever!
"Sign–and not only for yourselves, but for all ages. For that Parchment will be the Text-book of Freedom–the Bible of the Rights of Man forever!
"Sign–for that declaration will go forth to American hearts forever, and speak to those hearts like the voice of God! And its work will not be done, until throughout this wide Continent not a single inch of ground owns the sway of a British King!
"Nay, do not start and whisper with surprise! It is a truth, your own hearts witness it, God proclaims it.–This Continent is the property of a free people, and their property alone. [17-second applause]
God, I say, proclaims it!
"Look at this strange history of a band of exiles and outcasts, suddenly transformed into a people–look at this wonderful Exodus of the oppressed of the Old World into the New, where they came, weak in arms but mighty in Godlike faith–nay, look at this history of your Bunker Hill–your Lexington–where a band of plain farmers mocked and trampled down the panoply of British arms, and then tell me, if you can, that God has not given America to the free?
"It is not given to our poor human intellect to climb the skies, to pierce the councils of the Almighty One. But methinks I stand among the awful clouds which veil the brightness of Jehovah's throne. Methinks I see the Recording Angel–pale as an angel is pale, weeping as an angel can weep–come trembling up to that Throne, and speak his dread message–
"`Father! the old world is baptized in blood! Father, it is drenched with the blood of millions, butchered in war, in persecution, in slow and grinding oppression! Father–look, with one glance of Thine Eternal eye, look over Europe, Asia, Africa, and behold evermore, that terrible sight, man trodden down beneath the oppressor's feet–nations lost in blood–Murder and Superstition walking hand in hand over the graves of their victims, and not a single voice to whisper, "Hope to Man!"'
"He stands there, the Angel, his hands trembling with the black record of human guilt. But hark! The voice of Jehovah speaks out from the awful cloud–`Let there be light again. Let there be a New World.
Tell my people–the poor–the trodden down millions, to go out from the Old World. Tell them to go out from wrong, oppression and blood–tell them to go out from this Old World–to build my altar in the New!'
"As God lives, my friends, I believe that to be his voice! Yes, were my soul trembling on the wing for Eternity, were this hand freezing in death, were this voice choking with the last struggle, I would still, with the last impulse of that soul, with the last wave of that hand, with the last gasp of that voice, implore you to remember this truth–
God has given America to the free!
"Yes, as I sank down into the gloomy shadows of the grave, with my last gasp, I would beg you to sign that Parchment, in the name of the God, who made the Saviour who redeemed you–
in the name of the millions whose very breath is now hushed in intense expectation, as they look up to you for the awful words–`You are free!'"
O, many years have gone since that hour–the Speaker, his brethren, all, have crumbled into dust, but it would require an angel's pen to picture the magic of that Speaker's look, the deep, terrible emphasis of his voice, the prophet-like beckoning of his hand, the magnetic flame which shooting from his eyes, soon fired every heart throughout the hall!
The work was done. A wild murmur thrills through the hall.–Sign? Hah? There is no doubt now. Look! How they rush forward–stout-hearted John Hancock has scarcely time to sign his bold name, before the pen is grasped by another–another and another! Look how the names blaze on the Parchment–Adams and Lee and Jefferson and Carroll, and now, Roger Sherman the Shoemaker.
And here comes good old Stephen Hopkins–yes, trembling with palsy, he totters forward–quivering from head to foot, with his shaking hands he seizes the pen, he scratches his patriot-name.
Then comes Benjamin Franklin the Printer....
And now the Parchment is signed; and now let word go forth to the People in the streets–to the homes of America–to the camp of Mister Washington, and the Palace of George the Idiot-King–let word go out to all the earth–
And, old man in the steeple, now bare your arm, and grasp the Iron Tongue, and let the bell speak out the great truth:
FIFTY-SIX TRADERS, LAWYERS, FARMERS AND MECHANICS HAVE THIS DAY SHOOK THE SCHACKLES OF THE WORLD!
Hark! Hark to the toll of that Bell!
Is there not a deep poetry in that sound, a poetry more sublime than Shakespeare or Milton?
Is there not a music in the sound, that reminds you of those awful tones which broke from angel-lips, when news of the child Jesus burst on the shepherds of Bethlehem?
For that Bell now speaks out to the world, that–
GOD HAS GIVEN THE AMERICAN CONTINENT TO THE FREE–
THE TOILING MILLIONS OF THE HUMAN RACE
–AS THE LAST ALTAR OF THE RIGHTS OF MAN ON THE GLOBE–
THE HOME OF THE OPPRESSED, FOREVERMORE!
Are we not bought with a price?
Manly P. Hall, in his book "The Secret Destiny of America" chapter 17, wrote:
"Some years ago, while visiting the Theosophical colony at Ojai, California, A. T. Warrington, esoteric secretary of the society, discussed with me a number of historical curiosities, which led to examination of his rare old volume of early American political speeches of a day earlier than those preserved in the first volumes of the Congressional Record.
He made particular mention of a speech by an unknown man at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The particular book was not available at the moment, but Mr. Warrington offered to send me a copy of the speech, and he did; but unfortunately neglected to append the title or the date of the book.
Abraham Lincoln said, in Independence Hall, February 22nd, 1861: "I never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence."
We who share Lincoln's views must make clear to ourselves and to our countrymen what those "Declaration sentiments" are.
We hold that what Lincoln referred to as the "sentiments" of the Declaration are the principles of the American Republic. And we understand them to include the following:
All men are CREATED equal. Hence they have equal natural rights as a gift of the CREATOR.
Our duty to seek and follow the will of the Creator is prior to all government. Accordingly, so is the liberty of religious conscience.
The authority of the Creator as prior to all civil society and human authority must be respected for liberty to endure.
There is a natural right to life, prior to all positive law, including the Constitution.
There is a natural right to acquire, secure, and use property for safety and happiness.
Men have a right and a duty to form governments to secure their rights, and to assist one another in striving for happiness.
Men are authorized by the Creator to defend these rights, and accordingly, so are the governments they form. From this authority proceeds the right and duty to defend national sovereignty and security.
Governments are made legitimate by the consent of the free and equal persons who form and sustain them. Governmental powers are always to be understood as a delegation from the persons who compact to form the political community.
To enjoy the right of political self-government, men must be capable of personal self-government--the virtue of self-control. A people without decency cannot be secure in its liberty.
The institutions by which the life of liberty is fostered, especially the marriage-based two-parent family, the churches, and other associations aiming at the good life, are to be protected and cherished.
The vocation of citizenship in a free republic is noble and honorable. Public service, especially in the defense of the rule of law, merits praise and respect.
The right to self-government entails the right to arms by which tyranny can be resisted and new government established when necessary.
Governments may fail in many ways and still be tolerated. Peace is a precious good, and the people may be well advised to be patient with occasional governmental abuse to avoid rashly unleashing the season of popular passion and violence that will accompany any change in the fundamental form of government.
But the worst failures, tending irrevocably to excessive concentration of power, consolidating the branches and depriving the people of its liberty, or withdrawing the protection of the laws from the people, constitute tyranny or anarchy, and may and sometimes should be resisted, even to the point of rebellion, as our Founders declared.
Free speech and a free press are both required for the practice of responsible liberty, as necessary means by which the people can act together to govern themselves according to the laws of nature and of nature's God.
All persons have a right to equal treatment under the laws without regard to race, creed, or ethnicity.
It is the duty of the people, individually and in their associations, private and public, to declare the principles of self-government, including the fundamental American creed that our liberties come as a gift of the Creator.
Personal religious belief is not a requirement for American citizenship, but acknowledgment of our national belief that human equality and rights come from an authority beyond human will is a moral duty of citizenship. Its rejection constitutes a denial of natural rights and human equality, and is inconsistent with ordered liberty.
The Patriot Post
INDEPENDENCE DAY 2007
Our Lives, our Fortunes, our sacred Honor
Our nation began with these stirring words in the Declaration of Independence: “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.” Now, 231 years later, they still ring true.
We may envision the Founders as rash, rowdy rebels. Not so. Already accomplished in fields of endeavor, they were settled in character and reputation. They deemed their decision necessary, and their first thought was of “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” They were men of purpose and principle, who well understood the peril of choosing to declare independence from Great Britain. Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote to John Adams, “Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the House when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe to what was believed by many at that time to be our death warrants?”
The Founders reasoned that the colonials were compelled to the separation, outlining a detailed list of particulars describing the King of Great Britain’s “long train of abuses and usurpations” that could end only in an intended “absolute despotism” and “establishment of absolute tyranny over these states.” They appealed that the free citizens they represented therefore had both a right and a duty “to alter their former systems of government” and “to provide new guards for their future security.”
They further explained, “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.” They had been patient, measured and restrained in responding to the incursions on their freedoms but could be so no longer.
The central passage of the Declaration’s opening is the document’s most famous, suggesting the form of government truly fit for a free people: “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.”
The Founders sought liberty, not license—rather than a loosening of restraints, a freedom to pursue right. The objective was citizens’ safety and happiness, later called “the common defense,” “the general welfare,” and the “blessings of liberty.” The mottos of the American Revolution were “No King but King Jesus!” and “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”
Given their experiences with a leader who had violated the laws supposed to control his own conduct as much as theirs, the Founders sought to avoid the instability of democracy or of oligarchy, in which one or a handful of people can overturn the foundations by a simple vote or decree. Fisher Ames warned, “The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness which the ambitious call, and ignorant believe to be liberty.” John Witherspoon referred to pure democracy as “very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.” The Founders ultimately chose a constitutional democratic republic—based on the foundation of the reliable rule of law, responsive to the people’s “consent of the governed” through representation of the citizens, predicated on the virtue of the people.
The colonists came to these shores with a learned tradition of liberty, and this new land offered a manner of living that further taught freedom. Our performance in upholding this heritage is mixed. We are divided as a nation, no longer pressing toward unity and allegiance to shared principles. Facile commentary lauds comity as the antidote for what the Founders derided as faction, applauding the elitist establishment fetish for bipartisanship. But they are exactly wrong. Indeed, bipartisanship today is more akin to factionalism than are those adhering to the two major political parties out of principle.
There remains one crucial question: What are we willing to risk to salvage the heritage our Founders handed down to us? Our warriors in the field have demonstrated that they stand in the direct line from our Patriot Founders—prepared to sacrifice all in service. Many activist citizens gave time, effort and resources to turn aside the Senate’s recent attempts to foist a dangerous change in immigration laws on the nation. But the United States as a nation is not as secure as at its tenuous beginnings.
The signers of the Declaration concluded their treatise, “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... 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.” Do we citizens, inheritors of the Republic bequeathed us, still stand ready to hazard even half so much?
Quote of the week from the Patriot Post
“A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.” —Samuel Adams
Thomas Jefferson was reportedly influenced by the Virginia Declaration of Rights,
written by George Mason, when he drafted the most familiar lines of the Declaration of Independence.
Those lines by Jefferson state:
"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."
Mason's words in the Virginia Declaration of Rights say:
"All men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."
As we might expect, both declarations are similar. But only one--Mason's--mentions the right of property. Jefferson's doesn't.
What are we to make of this exclusion by the Founders of such a basic right?
The Founders' view of property
Revisionists suggest that the Founders' lack of reference to the right of property in the Declaration of Independence indicates that the Founders didn't value property rights, but instead favored some kind of "collective good," since they opted for the phrase "pursuit of happiness." Of course, there is no evidence to support such absurd conjecture.
On the other hand, the Founders left ample evidence that they believed in the inherent right of property. Jefferson himself--despite the theories of those intent on remaking him--was clearly, like other Founders, an adherent of the premises made popular at the time by John Locke, who viewed the right of property as paramount and innate.
Where the Founders may have differed with Locke is over priority. He placed supreme value on property rights, and defined all other rights as subordinate. The Founders sought to keep things in more reasonable balance.
This alone may have been the reason the Founders chose the more all-inclusive term "pursuit of happiness" over "right of property" in the Declaration. Interestingly, those today who disparage the right of property because the Founders made no mention of it in the Declaration fail to note that a large number of the specific grievances made against King George in the Declaration centered in the king's disregard for colonists' right of property.
Some suggest that another reason the Founders omitted explicit mention of the right of property in the Declaration is that the Founders felt that including this right would give slaveholders a degree of seeming legitimacy. Certainly, they were aware of the implications of this immense social and economic problem.
Despite the controversy that continues about the Founders' view of property rights, the natural right of property was clearly understood and accepted by our forebears, and they viewed government's role as securing that right. That is clear by the care they gave to protecting the right of property in the Constitution.
As far as the academic notion that Jefferson himself was an advocate of a "Leibnizian conception of happiness"--rather than a disciple of Locke--Jeffersonian scholar Marco Bassani writes in "The Real Jefferson":
"There were many inconsistencies in Jefferson's writings, and his behavior in politics often contradicted his stated political philosophy. That said, it remains indisputably true that Jefferson was a Lockean who believed in the natural right of property and in the rights of the states as independent political entities to determine their own destinies. That so many scholars are unwilling to face these truths reflects, not contrary evidence in Jefferson's writing, but rather the bias and wishful thinking of the academic class."
The Texas Declaration of Independence
In the context of this controversy, it's interesting to see what some early Texans had to say about the right of property before Texas became a state.
In 1836, a Unanimous Declaration of Independence was drawn up by "Delegates of the People of Texas," in which the delegates declared the following:
"When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression," citizens are obligated to abolish such government.
At least, Davy Crocket and his contemporaries believed that government's role centered in protecting the "inalienable right" of property--as did George Mason when he penned the Virginia Declaration of Rights, cited above.
As noted at the outset, Mason believed that the "inherent rights" of "all men" include not only "pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety," but "the means of acquiring and possessing property."
This was clearly the view of the Founders.
The connection between property and happiness
This brings us to this week's question. To what extent are property and happiness related? And to what extent are they not related at all?
Note that the two quotes immediately above make an implicit connection between property and happiness. Both quotes appear to presume that the right of property and the right to pursue happiness are inseparable.
It can be argued that without the right of property, no person can be happy. This is not to say that the more property a person accumulates, the happier he will be. It simply acknowledges the obvious: at least some right of property is indispensable to happiness.
An extreme example should suffice.
Imagine a world in which no person had any right of property whatsoever--inherent or bestowed. No right to possess a single thing, not even momentarily. No articles of clothing, no regular places for privacy, no tools, no utensils, no food, not even a toothbrush (which you wouldn't need, since you wouldn't have any food to begin with).
Let's take the toothbrush issue.
How would you like to share with everyone else a common toothbrush (especially if you had no control over where it came from), in a world in which no one was considered to have any right to possess anything individually.
In today's world at least, even prisoners in jail who otherwise "own" nothing are at least given a toothbrush. It's theirs. Without such a simple personal possession, they would be pretty miserable, for sure, notwithstanding the general misery they are already forced to endure during their incarceration.
Or consider the need to possess food, itself.
Before you can eat anything, you must first possess it--by way of "ownership"--in a way that is unchallenged by others. It doesn't matter where it came from--whether it was a gift from a benefactor or the result of your own labor--you must first "own" it before you eat it, if others are around. If you don't, someone else will likely claim it as theirs. To sustain physical life, you must have some unchallenged right of property, even if just momentarily possessed for the purposes of eating.
If we were all forced to share everything, because the right of property was thoroughly prohibited in all instances and that prohibition strictly enforced, would that be happiness? We wouldn't even live long enough to answer the question.
Clearly, at least a minimal right of property is fundamental to happiness. It's also fundamental to life.
Of course, Marxism is based on the notion that our most important needs are material, and that people therefore need to have their physical needs met before their emotional or other needs are considered.
That is not what we mean here. Nor is such materialism the same thing as acknowledging the simple importance of the right of property. In fact, Marx denied the right of property. He only believed in the need for property--in the most mundane and dehumanizing way imaginable, as a tool of enslavement.
Not only is a Marxist "utilitarian" view of human rights and needs utter hell in reality, but it is utter slavery. The two outcomes go hand in hand.
What we are talking about here is not just the need for property, but the right to choose one's way of obtaining, using, and disposing of property. That's the key difference between liberty and servitude.
Property often misunderstood
To understand the right of property, it's necessary to correctly define property.
Many of us assume that property, by definition, means tangible or exchangeable "things." That of course is one acceptable definition.
But the more precise meaning of property, according to the dictionary, is not things--per se--but "the right to possess, use, and dispose of" those things.
Look it up, it's quite instructive.
Thus, when we assert that property is an inalienable right given by God--as indeed it is--we mean the right to acquire, control, and exchange whatever material goods or possessions He gives us, especially as we obtain and manage these things in harmony with His will.
That's certainly inseparable from happiness. And it's also inseparable from liberty--without which there can be neither happiness nor enjoyment of the right of property in a way that furthers our pursuit of happiness (always as defined according to God's will, not our own).
The point of all this would seem to be that the three rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence imply respect for the right of property, too--as well as an understanding of the interconnectedness of all such fundamental rights.
Take away any one of them, and the other rights suffer.
The scriptures tell us that we are not to "live by bread alone." They also make it clear that in the eternities, it won't matter what our material circumstances were in this life--whether we had a nice house, drove nice cars, ate expensive food, spent lavishly on ourselves, or even had any money at all, so to speak. Jesus himself "hath not where to lay his head," we read.
On the other hand, material things are essential to surviving this physical existence. If we go too long without nourishment or protection from the elements, or if we don't take sufficient care of our health, or if we fail to keep our surroundings clean, we can find ourselves taken prematurely from this life. At least, the threat of such demise is very real in this harsh existence. Of course, God is ultimately in control, and He has ways to intervene and "provide for our daily bread," if we trust in Him--so that the threat of perishing is more imagined than real for those who strive to live faithfully.
With all this in mind, what is the place of "property" in our lives? What should it be? How vital is it? What is the connection--if any--between property and happiness? Can we be happy without any property at all, of any kind? How does God expect us to righteously sustain ourselves? Does He sanction the compromising of His principles and commandments as we seek to meet our material needs? How idealistic does He expect us to be in this highly competitive, often very unfair and cruel, material existence?
And finally, what exactly is the "right" of property? Do we all have a God-given, inalienable right of property, and what does that mean? Do we have a claim to other people's property, through collective means, enabled by the police power of government? What should government's role be in securing the right of property? To what extent should government regulate us in the exercise of our right of property?
These are questions that need to be understood in our society today.
For more information see:
My Thanks to Alan Keyes....
I have used material from several of his articles taken from his Website
And to Mark Alexander and to the editors of The Patriot Post, advocates for individual liberty, the restoration of Constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and the promotion of free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values