Thinking About Independence

Thomas Jefferson wrote the following regarding the celebration of the 4th of July:

“May [the Declaration of Independence] be to the world… the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of SELF-GOVERNMENT. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has NOT been born with saddles on their backs, NOR a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

How powerful is Jefferson’s idea of a nation which protects as its first principle each man and woman’s right to self determination as defined by their own “unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion”?

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Thoughts on the Fourth

In 1689 John Locke published Two Treatises of Government. Within those pages he detailed a theory of Natural Rights. Rights which are Man’s from birth, Rights which are not bestowed by government but which are to be secured and protected by governments established by Man. Those Rights he summed up as, “Life, Liberty and Estate”. Our forerunners in the 1st Continental Congress restated these in the Declaration of Colonial Rights as “life, liberty and property”.

These ideas of Natural Rights, Rights “endowed by their Creator”, are the cornerstone of the Declaration we celebrated this week on the Fourth of July.

However, the author of that famous document, Thomas Jefferson, made a curious choice in his final drafting of this letter to King George. He opted for an alternate ending…

“… certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.”

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