I doubt that I could add any new commentary on The Declaration of Independence but in reading it again I was reminded of why there are only three paragraphs with which most people have any familiarity (the first two and the last one) – all the rest of the declaration is filled with statements that are specific to the situations of that time. The one thing that really struck me as I read was that as we talk about revolution or change in government we should apply the same standards that are outlined in this declaration. First, we must recognize the purpose of government:
. . . 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 . . .
Second, as we work to effect a change of government we should remember how and when that should be undertaken:
. . . 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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes . . . 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.
In case anyone is not clear on the point – I don’t think our situation warrants abolishing our government as currently established – partially because we have have established methods for regular transitions of power. What I do believe is that because of our system of citizen involvement and established and regular transfers of power it is our never-ending duty to pay attention to the way that government is altered and to revoke previous alterations in cases where they prove to be either destructive or ineffective for their desired purpose. Always in our efforts to make or unmake alterations we should be looking back to the original statement of the purpose of government.
One final observation – the rights listed as examples of the unalienable rights of all men are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is not the responsibility of government to secure happiness for each but to ensure their right to pursue happiness as they define it.