The Declaration of Independence Today

The Declaration of Independence changed lives and ultimately created a nation. The American Colonists declared independence from the greatest power of that time, England. They proclaimed that all men were created equal and endowed by their creator with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In today’s world, however, is its usefulness behind us? Far from it!

To start, let’s explore further the rationale for The Declaration of Independence. The document advanced 28 grievances of the colonists against the incursions of the king in making, judging and executing laws or taxing them with little or no colonial representation. Every single remonstrance dealt with an abuse or concentration of more than one of the three powers in the hands of the king/governor, legislature, or judge. Aristotle suggests when you combine the tyranny of royalty with the oligarchy of the rich and the democracy of the needy it was impossible to reach the common good of all (William Ebenstein, Great Political Thinkers, p. 111). This was the impasse of that moment—and of many since.

Rebellion was the last choice for the colonists, but inevitably the final solution after a “long train of abuses and usurpations resulting in absolute Despotism.” Independence from Great Britain was a difficult thing to conceive and obtain because many of the colonists thought of themselves as British citizens. This is why Jefferson lamented that there were relational “ties of common kindred and consanguinity,” meaning family and/or of the same blood. As the Declaration of Independence reveals, these colonists were well read and their leaders were educated in the philosophy, histories and political forms of Greece and Rome. They were scholars of the classics. Ultimately, however, these courageous pioneers and patriots appealed to a higher power than that of kings, parliaments or judges. They would not forget their allegiance to the God of Nature and Nature’s God in any step taken as he was a higher authority than the King or his government.

Even as the circumstances became increasingly unsustainable, the colonists could not at first conceive of revolution, but after careful consideration a thoroughly organized notion arose.  To ensure success, the question that must be answered correctly, they decided, was the following: Ultimately who could and would create, legislate, execute and judge their cause?

In the Declaration of Independence they answered this question and laid down their explanation of why they could lawfully rebel and where they would turn. They directed their hearts and heads to an appeal of natural law—or right reason in agreement with nature  and Nature’s God was for equality. In an uncompromising manner, a higher power was identified as the sole Creator of the three unalienable rights. Therefore, justice could only be dispensed in looking to the Supreme Judge for the rectitude of their intentions, and to the protection of divine Providence to execute their path. “Where there is no judicature on earth to decide controversies amongst men, God in Heaven is judge” (William Ebenstein, Great Political Thinkers, p. 454).

The principles, rights and duties within the Declaration of Independence were then signed in a solemn, courageous act pledging their lives, fortunes and sacred honor. John Adams shared the events of that memorable day with his wife Abigail from Philadelphia on July 3, 1776: “The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epoch, in the history of America. —I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of the Continent to the other from the Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm, but I am not. —I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. —Yet through all the Gloom I can see that End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

It was these bold patriots with, their deep philosophical principles and generational thinking, that gave my wife Linda and I the determination and courage to seek new educational guards, or academies for the teaching of our own posterity. But how or where to begin?

As I pondered Jefferson and his words in the Declaration of Independence, my mind turned to how the power of his words might apply today.

Just before his passing, Thomas Jefferson penned his own epitaph: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.” If Jefferson were alive today, he might change the order in which these are stated. Independence has been won. Religious freedom has been established. However, the implementation of ongoing traditional liberal arts education in elementary, secondary and schools and universities that will effectively maintain independence and self-governance is still a work in progress. Education has gone through several ups and downs during America’s history but has not become what Jefferson envisioned. Not yet.

John Adams insights about the revolution he expressed to Jefferson in a letter dated August 24, 1815. “What do We mean by the Revolution? The War? That was no part of the Revolution. It was only an Effect and Consequence of it. The Revolution was in the Minds of the People, and this was effected, from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen Years before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington.

A similar educational revolution has been fomenting in the hearts and minds of parents. It has been increasing for decades. As parents have been excluded from life-altering decisions on their children many have exclaimed, “Whose Children Are They!?” only to lament and now declare:

“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for Parents to dissolve the educational bands which have connected them with others, and to assume among the Powers of the State, the separate and equal station to which the laws of California and of Nature’s God entitle them, a moral and decent education, the opinions and actions of the educational bureaucracy requires that we should declare the causes which impel us to Separation. 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all children are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of a sound education. That to secure these rights schools are instituted for children, deriving their just powers from the parents, that whenever any form of education becomes destructive to these ends it is the right of the parents to alter or to abolish it and to institute new schools, laying their foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to affect their educational success and the future happiness of their children. Prudence indeed will dictate that schools long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that parents are more disposed to suffer while no other choice exists, except to right themselves by abolishing the one-size-fits-all approach to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of academic, economic, and moral decline reduces them without freedom of choice, it is their right, it is their duty, to disrupt and throw off such schools and provide new schools for their future success.”

We must consider the grievances done by bodies of unelected bureaucrats today writing, judging and executing regulations with despotic powers concentrated into such an unelected body.

I myself am left lamenting at times with Lord Acton as he did in The History of Freedom, “…the history of freedom was the history of the thing that was not…” The history of educational freedom in America is a history of something that was and is not!

Educational independence is a right owned by parents and is a pillar of familial and human happiness. The Declaration of Independence beckons to all who hold the truths of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be self-evident to find ways to establish, honor and uphold them today.

Image credit: John Nixon reading the Declaration of Independence to the people in front of the State House immediately after its passage,  Scan by NYPL, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education®. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

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