by Gary North
The Declaration of Independence was presented before the Continental Congress for approval on July 2, 1776, but it was not formally ratified until July 4. The Congress spent two days in revising the document. (Can you imagine today's Congress getting this revision process finished in two days?) It was signed on August 2.
Its primary author was Thomas Jefferson, but also on the drafting committee were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston.
The document was written to serve as a statement of causes that justified secession. It was aimed at the general population, but also at foreign nations, whose monarchs would probably not appreciate a colonial secession movement. This was especially true of France. Jefferson wanted to persuade the French intelligentsia that wise men should support the colonies, which France eventually did. Without this support, especially on the sea, the American Revolution might have failed. Then Louis XVI would probably have lived out his days designing locks and other gadgets.
The problem with this document today is that it is politically incorrect. Therefore, very few students are asked to read it. Furthermore, there is little doubt that it would be regarded by the American court system as illegal.
Thus, in the spirit of the times, and for the sake of getting at least selected portions of the document before America's high school students, I offer the following revisions. I use the text posted on the National Archives site.
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.
This, of course, is a blatant rhetorical violation of the wall of separation between church and state, despite the fact that the originator of the phrase, "wall of separation," was Thomas Jefferson. Clearly, neither he nor Congress fully understood or truly appreciated this fundamental principle of religious liberty. While "Nature's God" was no doubt a way for Jefferson to cover up his Unitarian theology in a document aimed mainly at Christians, but secondarily at French intellectuals, the American courts would strike the phrase from the text today. "One nation under nothing in particular" is the judicial language of preference. Revise it.
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.
Same problem. This Creator business has to go. Also, there is no word, "unalienable." That was a typographical error — the most famous one in American history. Retaining it provides a poor example to America's public school children. We must protect the children! This must be revised. Also, get rid of those capital letters: Rights, Life, Liberty, Happiness.
— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
Consent is important, of course. A government has to have consent. But the verb tense "are" seems open-ended. So does "deriving." It is as if the consent process were continuing, as if there were still a right of revolution inhering in the electorate. This is clearly subversive. When it comes to political consent as a requirement for government, the proper tense is the past tense.
— 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.
This was clearly Jefferson's Southern partisanship at work. After all, the man was a slave owner. It is obvious what he had in mind. I mean, this secession business has to stop somewhere. The section should simply be dropped.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
This is excellent. The document should probably begin with this passage.
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.
The man had a one-track mind. He just could not leave good enough alone. Also, the constant capitalization of nouns is Germanic. Nazi, even. This has to be revised. And "evinces"? Of what was he thinking? But, for the sake of the final clause, we should be willing to let this paragraph stand: "new Guards for their future security." This has a superb ring to it.
— 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.
We have no reticence to recommend rebellion against kings. This passage may stay.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
"The public good." Excellent! This is surely why we need more laws: for the public's own good. Anyone who opposes new laws is inescapably suspect.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
This should be retained. The world is in need of more governors. "But, Grandma, why do we need more governors?" "The better to govern, my dear." (A little humor never hurts.)
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
This argument is highly suspect. It would indicate the existence of legitimate opposition to modern administrative law, where unelected bureaucrats employed by a Federal bureaucracy are called administrative law judges. They have the authority to hand down decisions as both judge and jury in terms of the rule book written by their employers. I may be reading too much into this, but prudence is wise. Eliminate it.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
Understood. We need lots of local administrative law judges. This is convenient for administrative law judges. The passage stays.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
Kings did these sorts of things. You just cannot trust them. Keep it.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
This one is a toss-up. To capitalize People and State is legitimate. So also with Systems of Government. But not Legislative and Annihilation. And surely we don't want to see the State exposed to convulsions. Keep it.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
We need open borders. We need amnesty for illegal aliens. We need to get them registered to vote. We know how they will vote. Keep it.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
More power to the courts! Especially administrative law courts. This is the basis of reliable law enforcement today. Keep it.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
Why shouldn't judges be dependent on the will of their employer? He who pays the piper calls the tune. The State calls the tune. This passage must go.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
Opposition to new offices? Was the man insane? What did he want, an economic recession? Desperate people out of work? And then to use a pejorative verb like "harass" in relation to a legally constituted authority! This is simply not acceptable in a public document. Erase it.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
State legislatures making decisions about the use of the nation's army? This sounds like militia talk — Timothy McVeigh stuff. Erase it.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
Which military? The national military? Of course it is under civilian power. This is why there is a Department of Homeland Security. No problem here. Leave the paragraph intact.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
This kind of rhetoric mocks the United Nations and the European Union. Besides, we all know today that the constitution evolves. It is a living document. This passage must go.
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
Same problem. The next thing you know, people will be posting bumper stickers with a blue helmet inside one of those Ghostbusters slash symbols. Erase it.
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
Another toss-up. If trade is under NAFTA or WTO rules, it's a good thing. On the other hand, if trade allows the importation of goods from nations that reject carefully crafted laws establishing fair trade, it is a threat. I guess it can stay on a provisional basis.
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
This is the second time he has capitalized "consent." Also, the language implies that taxes are in some way suspect. If it's a question of cutting taxes or cutting this sentence, cut the sentence.
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
Trials are a good thing, especially by administrative law judges. Juries are time-consuming. "The only good jury is a hung jury!" (A little gallows humor.) Erase it.
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
More snide remarks about the evolving international system of justice. The man would probably challenge the Genocide Convention. Erase it.
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
Leave it. Who can understand it? It's safe. It's history. Nobody pays any attention to history. I mean, this section won't star Mel Gibson!
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
This implies that charters are superior to laws. He even capitalizes the word. Erase the entire sentence.
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
In times of emergency, extraordinary measures are important for the well-being of the voters. There are times when you have to destroy regional political representation in order to save it. Erase it.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
This sounds as though the author is defending the secessionist mentality. He is saying things about George III that others might be tempted to use against the memory of Abraham Lincoln (may his name be praised). Erase it.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
Didn't the man have a spell-checker? I mean, "compleat"? What kind of example does this set for our children? But it is tough on mercenaries, and mercenaries are kind of like paid militia. Soldiers of fortune. That sort of person. Leave it in, but run a spell checker.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
This has something to do with navies, I think. I guess it can stay. I mean, I wouldn't want to be drafted into the Navy.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
Can you believe the man's insensitivity? Indian Savages! Capitalized, even! It goes.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. 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.
It's against a prince, this time. No problem with this. But it implies that administrators have an obligation to do something with petitions other than file them. Strike it.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
The scent of Anglophobia is unmistakable. This sort of national chauvinism is what is wrong with this country. Erase it.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. 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.
Again, this sort of rhetoric could be applied retroactively to the late unpleasantness of 1861—65. Strike it.
The revised version should be sent to every state department of education in the United States, warning all of them that if the revised version of this document is not presented in the textbooks they adopt for use in the state's public schools, then all Federal funding will be removed in the following fiscal year.
Now go out and enjoy the Fourth of July. Light a firecracker. Enjoy a Roman candle or two. Never forget: the Fourth of July is to the memory of American independence what Labor Day is to labor.
July 4, 2002
Copyright © 2002 LewRockwell.com