President Calvin Coolidge’s defense of the Declaration of Independence provides the perfect commentary about the universal and absolute truths on which America is founded.
If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth and their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule [by] the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction cannot lay claim to progress. They are reactionary.
Of all political documents in history, only the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution offer a seamless theory and practice of enlightened government. Collectively, they address all levels of our existence. Think of it as a pyramid such as the one on the Great Seal of the United States, with the Eye of Providence above the pyramid representing the nation.
First and foremost, our founding documents recognize God, the Spirit of Liberty, as the source of all life, all liberty, all rights and all good. That is the Eye of Providence above the pyramid.
Next, in the Declaration of Independence, they enunciate the basic principles of liberty descending from God to be applied in the body politic. That is the top of the pyramid.
Then, in the Constitution, they articulate the architecture of liberty, which describes how our federal government is constructed, and in the Bill of Rights they enumerate the inalienable rights of each individual citizen. That is the middle of the pyramid. Those architectural plans make secure the blessings of liberty as they establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare.
Last of all, they demand and encourage elected officials and civil servants of integrity, calling on them to enact and enforce laws, policies and practices of liberty, which are the base of the pyramid.
At every level of human activity, from the physical through the mental to the spiritual, from the individual through the local, state and federal government, they declare God as the divine basis and governor of our existence, individually and collectively. We Americans should thank God for the blessings we have: personal, political, economic and social freedom, the right to self-determination of our lives and the opportunity to lawfully pursue happiness as we define it for ourselves, rather than being forced into abject, slavish service to a totalitarian state run by despots claiming to be divinely guided. We should express that gratitude through lives which serve—not rule—others, from the nuclear family to the human family.
We should also gratefully honor those who went before us—often in great hardship, suffering and bloodshed—to build and defend a haven for us in the wilderness of man’s longstanding inhumanity to man.
Last of all, we should be vigilant, active citizens who work to preserve the blessings of liberty so they may be passed on to our posterity and the boundaries of our haven may be peacefully enlarged to encompass all humanity. We should do all that in recognition that the blessings of liberty come to us from our Creator, Nature’s God, Divine Providence, the Supreme Judge of the world who is, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, “the common Father of us all.”
America—love it and live it!