IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776
You have to figure that the opening words "In Congress" had a better reputation back then. Today's Congress would have produced a Declaration of Independence that was 5,000 pages long, written by lobbyists and filled with pork-barrel projects.
... the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God entitled them ...
This is the first reference to a higher power in the Declaration. Later we get the "Creator," "Supreme Judge of the world" and "Divine Providence."
Even if the Founders were just tipping their hats to a gentlemanly deism, there's a spiritual aspect to the Declaration absent from the Constitution.
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.
Big Idea No. 1. These rights exist; they are not granted by a ruler or government.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Big Idea No. 2: The people are the grantor of the government's authority.
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 ...
And Big Idea No. 3, the heart of the thing: The right to cast off unjust rule. We should not do this for "light and transient causes," but ...
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 ...
After that comes the list of grievances against the king. I amuse myself now and then by applying some to our Legislature or federal government:
- The refusal to pass laws "the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."
- Holding sessions "at places unusual, uncomfortable and distant." (I think of Tallahassee.)
- Sending out "swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance."
We cried for justice, but neither the king nor our British brethren would listen, the Declaration states. The text builds to the climax:
We, therefore ... solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are absolved of all allegiance to the British Crown ...
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
Indeed, it cost many of them their lives and fortunes. Their honor has survived.