An intermittent blog about ideas, visions, values, virtues, and the moral imagination.
Thursday, July 4, 2019
Re-reading Independence for July 4
Here are some thoughts on my article today on the Declaration of Independence. See full article here
First, we should remember what a bold and decisive stroke the Continental Congress executed by declaring our independence. They were committing treason. They were seceding from the country that had birthed them, protected them, and to whom they were pledged. We celebrate the document, but no matter what the document ended up saying, it was the act of declaring their independence that could get them hanged, and their homes confiscated or destroyed, leaving their families desperate. Still, they boldly declared they were independent.
Second, we should remember that these men weren’t actually “revolutionaries” in any modern sense; their “revolution” was really a secession. They were declaring themselves independent of the mother country, they weren’t attempting to overthrow the social institutions, economy, or religious establishment. They simply wanted to be free to govern themselves and let England govern itself as it pleased.
These men were conservative secessionists, in other words, not radical social reformers. Prudence, as political theorist Russell Kirk often said, is the great conservative virtue, and they demonstrated it: “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.” It would be hard to put the conservative vision for prudential change much better.
Third, there is much more to the Declaration than the famed second sentence. “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.”