“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.”
36 amazing words written by a 33-year old Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia 229 years ago. As perfect a statement of human rights as has ever been penned. Even with all the turmoil in the world and domestically, I still get shivers when I read the Declaration of Independence and think about what a revolution it started. Here’s some more information about it.
13 years after the Declaration was signed and war with Britain was declared, we ratified the Constitution, largely architected by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (Jefferson’s Virginia protege). Here’s a bit from the preamble (Schoolhouse Rock fans can hum along or listen here):
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and sure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Different, huh? Much more focused on what they’re trying to achieve, and how to make it work. The history books often elide the two events, making the Constitution seem like an inevitable follow-on piece of work to the Declaration, but it was anything but — in fact, more than just being a document describing the pragmatic workings of the government, the Constitution represented ideas that were nearly as revolutionary as the Declaration itself.
I’m always struck by the differences and similarities between the revolutions of 1776 and 1789 — the idealistic and the pragmatic — and how our country has needed both throughout the last 216ish years to survive and thrive.
The Constitution is as incredible a piece of thinking about how a complex government should work as has ever been written — it’s been incredibly robust throughout our history — but without the Declaration, it would likely be just another government document that nobody really cares about (most constitutions are).
The Declaration, with its transcendant advocacy of human rights, would be little more than a beautiful poem without the force of the Constitution to make the ideas and ideals real.
So: Happy Independence Day. I hope everyone can take a bit of time to just reflect that even in a time where things look bleak some days and there’s a lot of fighting domestically and abroad, we live in a spectacular country that is unlike any other.