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The Declaration of Independence was a political instrument whose purpose was to split off one part of an empire from the whole. Beyond this, it constituted a hinge point in history, a new and universal measure against which the legitimacy of government everywhere would be tested. A new era was upon the earth. We were about to discover whether the dreams of our dreamers had a place in practical government.
The single, driving concept behind the Declaration was and remains that all men are created equal. This is its soul, its ultimate claimed truth. Absent this, the document is meaningless. And this was radical, perhaps beyond what our every day experiences would incline us to understand and appreciate. Yet this is now the base assumption of our political lives. It is, in fact, the secular foundation of our value system.
Within the Declaration, there are three phrases that specify or imply the basis on which it was written. The first of these is the most obvious: Self-evident. The authors took to themselves, and by extension all humanity, the power and authority of reason and applied it to the world about them. In doing so, they declared that at birth each human being was, by right of birth, the equal of all others. They did not need a state or a religion to tell them this, nor would they let a state or a religion deny it to them, or to their children. Self-evident was self-evident, and the phrase was Franklin’s.
The next is pursuit of Happiness. This may be the most radical thought in the document. For some, it remains radical to this day. It challenged not the authority of the state but the place of religion in an every day life. And what was so radical? This: It is alright to live a life whose aim is fulfillment in the world about us. In effect, it allows that the purpose and measure of a life lived must not necessarily include getting to heaven, that a life lived well and good here on earth could be its own reward. In 1776, this was radical.
The last of the three phrases is the last three words of the document itself. On signing their Declaration, the Founders pledged to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor. They saw in their individual lives something of worth, sacred, something good in and of itself. And, by extension, that this good was the basis of the inalienability of the Rights they claimed for all humanity. Make no mistake: humankind as born apart from sin was a radical thought in 1776. And this, too, remains radical for some today.
That we are each born equal remains the enduring force of our national spirit. And for the responsible Independent, it is no longer enough to show up on the first Tuesday of November to choose among the candidate offerings of others. Today, there are few practical barriers to our participation in the political process. With the internet and new media, we have 24/7 access to the political process.
This is not a radical thought. It is a radical fact. Engage now!