Today’s holiday celebrates the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence. Beyond the traditional parades and fireworks displays, this holiday also affords an opportunity for us citizens to reflect on the language of the declaration.
“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 Declaration of Independence rests on three “truths” that are called self-evident:
1. All are created equal and endowed by the Creator with unalienable Rights;
2. Governments are instituted among Men to secure these rights and derive their powers from the consent of the governed;
3. When any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.
Although today secularists and atheists find the references to “God,” “Creator,” “the Supreme Judge of the world,” and “divine Providence” unacceptable, the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence assumed that God is the ultimate foundation of the rights of all people. The signers believed there could be varied forms of government and that any and all forms of government should be judged on the basis of whether they served for the protection of the rights of the people governed.
While we need to avoid ideological references to the “manifest destiny of the United States” and other such terms of cultural and racial superiority, we must recognize that the fundamental principles of the Declaration of Independence are certainly in keeping with Catholic political philosophy.
It seems to me that many U.S. citizens think of individual freedom and rights without the comprehensive framework found in the Declaration of Independence. I mean that some of us think solely in terms of individual liberty with no sense of the duties that flow from the approach taken by the founders of this nation.
As we celebrate Independence Day today, we do well to recall that our rights entail corresponding duties. In other words, if one has the right to life, one also has the duty to respect and care for the lives of others. If one has an unalienable dignity as a human person, so also one has a duty to treat others with dignity and respect.
Let’s ponder the opening Mass prayer for Independence Day.
“Father of all nations and ages, we recall the day when our country claimed its place among the family of nations; for what has been achieved we give you thanks, for the work that still remains we ask your help…”
Image: Armstrong PhotoXpress