The Eighteenth Century was a remarkable time, a period that laid the foundations for the modern world. No single event epitomizes this more than the American Declaration of Independence. It is the single most important bit of ink and parchment put forth in a time when the remarkable had become almost mundane. Nothing else comes close, not the constitution, The Rights of Man, or any other declaration or speech of the period. If one is to compare it to anything at all, it would be the Magna Carta. But even this remarkable charter was limited in scope and impact, not so with the Declaration.
The opening salvo of the Declaration was aimed at the heart of tyranny. It took to task not just King George III, at whom it was directed, but all governments that then existed. The preamble to the document made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that there are limitations on government, and that exist certain rights no man, or group of men, can justifiably infringe on. Stated so eloquently a couple of short centuries ago, the words ring clearly to the hearts of man to this day:
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 shown 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.
With these words, the founding fathers tore to shreds the known world. Gone was the Right of Kings, simply rolled asunder was the assumption of inherent superiority, and given no quarter were those who saw people as subservient to governments. Everything that had been held as foundational to governmental authority, at that time, the Declaration rendered illegitimate. It did not simply state it so, but did so with clarity and irrefutable logic. Across the globe, people that read it found something that spoke to their own circumstances.
Christendom marks the birth of Christ as a central turning point in world history, therefore time is marked from that point. Similarly, the Declaration marks another turning point in world history. Before July 4th 1776, kingdoms ruled the world and rights were determined by birth. After that day, monarchs either fell or morphed into figureheads. Rights were no longer seen as a inheritance given to a select few, but humanities birthright.
Shaken to the core, the world changed because it had to. Republics sprung up across the globe, as did new era of prosperity. The few men gathered in Independence Hall in the days proceeding its release, knew what they were contemplating would reverberate far beyond America’s shores. Even so, none of them could of seen the extent to which it changed everything. It was essentially a declaration of independence for all of humanity. Consequently, July 4th is not just a day to celebrate the birth of the United States, but it marks a day that the whole world changed. A change that pivots on the extraordinary words found in a couple of short paragraphs written 240 years ago.
Happy July 4th, to America and the world.
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