It was the 4th of July in 1776 when delegates from all thirteen colonies assembled at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Not knowing the full significance of what was about to take place that day, the delegates would do something that would forever change the course of the American people.
Throughout history, only a few documents have changed the way we as a nation view politics and carry out our everyday lives. The document mentioned above was the Declaration of Independence. It changed the course of history because it granted America its freedom from Great Britain. Originally, there was a committee created to compose the document which consisted of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson. After conversing with one another, the committee decided that Thomas Jefferson would be the one to write it with the final approval coming from the other four. After writing it and receiving approval from the committee, Jefferson presented it to the House. What happened here was not what the committee originally expected. Not all of the delegates attending the convention approved the document. However, through compromising for the greater good of the “New Nation” and editing to accommodate everyone’s preferences, the document was finally approved by all thirteen colonies.
In today’s society, The Declaration of Independence is still a living document. Many ingredients are still an enormous part of our lives and the way our government handles diverse matters. One of the clauses, however, is being completely taken out of context and should be addressed immediately. The United States’ Foreign Policy is an ongoing problem and will continue until we as nation get back to our roots and foundation before we eventually lose track of our own problems and affairs, inevitably leading to our destruction. Having said this, it is helpful to know the origins of this belief. In the following paragraphs, a brief history of The Declaration of Independence will be discussed so the origins of this idea are clear.
Although Thomas Jefferson gets credit for writing the Declaration of Independence, one must first understand where most of the ideas came from. According to Dr. Vaughn Huckfeldt during a class lecture, an English philosopher by the name of John Locke developed his own political views and published them in the late 1600’s in his Two Treatises of Government. At the beginning of the Declaration, it is mentioned that all men are entitled with “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” In Locke’s 2nd Treatise of Government, he begins by using his theory of the state of nature in order to define the nature of power. Locke describes the state of nature as a place of equality in which no one person has any power over another and all people are free to do as they please. He argues that although the state of nature is a place of perfect freedom, it is still governed by natural law.
When discussing law, the Declaration sets a foundation which the United States government is based on. The Declaration states to secure the rights of the people, governments have to be instituted among the people; however, when a government rules without consent, it is considered to be unjust. Even when being just, no one has the right to rule the other without the other’s consent (West 75). When given consent, political leaders are usually appointed through elections to ensure that the public has the right to self-rule so that they can make their own decisions or appoint representatives that reflect their views on politics.
The reason for drafting the Declaration was because of the tyrannical rule of the British over the American colonies. Sheldon mentions in his work, “The Political Theory of The Declaration of Independence,” that a list of “injuries and usurpations” had been brought against the American colonies. The Declaration contains a list of these injustices. Sheldon goes on to explain some of the various hardships placed on them such as the British Parliament destroying the democratic institutions of the colonies. The Founding Fathers did not want this to become a problem in the newly created United States. Because of this fear, Thomas Jefferson placed a clause in the Declaration saying, “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.” Trying to prevent ever having to deal with tyranny, the Founding Fathers constructed a way to check the government internally which is know as the separation of powers. They devised three separate branches which were the Legislative, Executive, and the Judicial branches. These branches would have separate duties, different sizes and tasks, and sometimes different terms of office so that each of them could serve as a system of checks and balances for the government. Each branch would be given enough constitutional power so that it could resist any unnecessary impingement on one another (West 81-82).
In today’s society, many countries experience problems dealing with tyrannical rulers. As a nation, we Americans deem it necessary to not only deal with our problems but also get involved with other countries’ problems as well. As we all know, we have been in Iraq for a number of years dealing with there governmental problems. According to Margaret Griffis at Antiwar.com, over 3,000 American men have lost their lives since the war began in March of 2003 due to our decision to enter the Iraqi nation and try and sort their problems out. This is not right. Many innocent lives have been taken having nothing to do with the American idea of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When talked about in the Declaration on unjust governments needed to be overthrown, it was eluding to our problems if any presented themselves. In his last attempt to communicate with the American people, George Washington gave his Farewell Address stating that the United States should be open to commerce with all nations, but they should avoid entangling themselves with foreign wars which were not directly threatening the nation. As a nation, we should be setting an example for other nations just as Governor John Winthrop said in his speech referring to America as a “City on a hill.” This theme shows the American idea that the nation must be set apart as an example for others to follow. Americans generally see the nation in this context. So if others see America as a “City on a hill,” we should not have the arrogance to try and think just because we are the current superpower in the world, we can act as a peacemaker for everyone’s problems.
To many other nations, America is often referred to as somewhat of a bully. No other nation in history has even come close to equaling the power of the United States of America. This simple fact alone frightens people. They believe that no nation should have that much power at their disposal. It is also scares people around the world to think that America can act alone militarily at any given time. These powers which the American possesses are giving us an appearance of arrogance to other nations. We have become so self-righteous in our pursuits that we refuse to attempt to see an issue from another countries’ vantage point if it differs from our own. Even the president alienates people on national television with his claim that, “You are either with us or against us.” This takes a step back as far as diplomacy goes. Perhaps instead of writing the differing opinions of other countries off as ignorant or evil, we should try to understand the rationale behind other countries’ positions when they differ from ours.
The document that the Founding Fathers presented us with that day in 1776 will forever be engraved in history. The genius in there writings somewhat foreshadowed the future of the American Government and possesses themes which are still present in today’s society. Over time, American political leaders and American people have lost the underlying meaning of some of these themes. It was not intended by the Founding Fathers to entangle ourselves in many foreign affairs in fear of creating unwanted problems for the nation in which they made so many sacrifices for. America should remember where it came from and who gave there lives to have the freedoms such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in which they possess today and be the example that it should be for all other nations. I believe that America can still be this citadel, but it must make changes in order to better represent the country among the international community.
Griffis, Margaret, Ed. “Casualties in Iraq.” 25 March 2007. 25 March 2007. < http://www.antiwar.com/casualties/>
Huckfeldt, Vaughn. Class lecture. Philosophy 243. 18
Jefferson, Thomas. “The Declaration of Independence.” The Norton Anthology of
American Literature. Ed. Baym, Nina. 6th Edition. New York: W.W. Norton &
Company, Inc, 2003. 727-732.
Sheldon, Gerard Ward. “The Political Theory of the Declaration of Independence.” The
Declaration of Independence Origins and Impacts. Ed. Gerber, Scott Douglas.
Washington D.C: CQ Press, 2002. 16-27
United States. Dept. of State. Farewell Address by George Washington (1796). 19 March
2007. < http://usinfo.state.gov//usa/infousa/facts/democrac/49.htm>
West, Thomas G. “The Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of
Rights.” The Declaration of Independence Origins and Impacts. Ed. Gerber, Scott
Douglas. Washington D.C: CQ Press, 2002. 72-95