Religion & Liberty Online

The Declaration of Independence reminds us to put tyrants on notice

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the Declaration of Independence is that it sought to overturn the long abuses and powers of tyrants. It revealed the truth of self-government and that power is inherent in the people. In the second introduction of the document, Jefferson declared:

…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.

Jefferson, always the philosopher, reminds the reader that governments are instituted to protect the natural rights of man, to preserve their freedom above all else. Government is not intended to serve the bureaucracy, rulers, or an elite class.

In a speech in 1920, Calvin Coolidge noted of America’s Declaration that the “rights of citizens ought to be protected with every power and resource of the state, and a government that does any less is false to the teachings of that great document — false to the name American.” This phenomenon is perhaps one of the biggest problems of our own government today that is in desperate need of reform.

The list of grievances against King George were many and proved in the eyes of the colonists to violate the very principle of government. Jefferson notes at the conclusion of these grievances that “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.”

America’s birthday is a revolutionary act, and that reminds us to be ever vigilant of tyranny in all its forms. Our Revolution carries with it a deep responsibility. Jefferson, who considered himself a Virginian first, hails from a state with the motto Sic semper tyrannis. The signers risked their lives for a document that uplifted the inalienable rights of man. They were willing to flaunt a very revolutionary document in front of the largest super-power of their era.

As our rights are threatened, we should remind ourselves of the importance of working to build a free society. The progressive scheme desires to trample upon these rights in the name of their own version of the collectivized good. This does not champion but tramples the purpose and meaning of the Declaration. They believe that society is too imperfect for self-government. We believe, like the Declaration’s signers, that society is far too imperfect for a collectivized scheme. It only and always ends in tyranny.

Ray Nothstine

Ray Nothstine is editor at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.