The Declaration of Independence: A Theistic Document

In the Declaration of Independence, there are several theistic (not merely deistic) concepts.  These include:  A Creator, God-given moral rights, The Supreme Judge of the World (implying a day of Judgment), Divine Providence (God intervening in the world) and the “sacred honor” of the founders.  Sadly, most Americans have never read the Declaration of Independence. Here’s your chance:

 

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to 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; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. 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. –Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

 

 

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

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2 replies
  1. Sean says:

    The Declaration of Independence is perhaps the most significant piece of writing throughout history. It is a compilation of ideas from the Magna Carta, writings of John Locke and Thomas Hobbs, ideas from John Adams, and other writings regarding improving how we govern ourselves. When you read it, and then realize how old Thomas Jefferson was when he wrote it, and then realize the situation the country was in, it becomes an awe inspiring part of history to study. It’s most recognized by it’s guarantee of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” or the idea that “all men are created equal.” Most people don’t realize that at it’s core, it is a 28 count inditment against King George and the justification for the colony’s decision to break off from Britain.

    Conservatives often argue that it has theistic implications because of the line, “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, ” or it’s mention of “nature’s God” or “divine providence.” Anyone who reads this and interprets it to mean that the Christian God created us with equal rights had entirely missed the point. If that’s the case, then why are some people handicapped? This line doesn’t mean that we’re all created equal by God, but that the society this document seeks to inspire creates the equal opportunity to be successful, and to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    Most of the founding fathers we’re deists, some atheists, some christians, but they were above all secularists. This misinterpretation is the main idea behind the foundational falsehood of conservatism that America is a ‘christian nation.’ America was founded as a safe haven for people wanting to practice any religion or no religion. America is a secular democracy, despite any personal belifs that any elected official or founding father had. This is demanded by the first amandment and further upheld by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of it. As the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli states, the United States was “not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” When the government endorses any religion, that is a violation of every citizen’s religous freedom who isn’t of that religion, and any sound understanding of history will reveal that governemtns that took any position of religion, wether it be pro-religion or atheist, always violated basic rights.

    Asserting “nature’s god” or “divine providence” supports the conservative claim that the Declaration of Independence has theistic implications leads to a series of lies that are quite the opposite of what America is, and is a servere misinterpretation of what the founding father’s intended. And anyway, even if this blog post was correct about everything, the declaration still has no leagal power, so using it to support the “christian nation” claim is wrong on numerous levels.

    Reply
  2. J.C. Thibodaux says:

    @Sean,

    @If that’s the case, then why are some people handicapped?

    You’re conflating unalienable right with body parts….

    @This line doesn’t mean that we’re all created equal by God

    Yes it does, because it identifies the Creators as the Endower (“they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”).

    @This is demanded by the first amandment and further upheld by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of it.

    The supreme court’s often fanciful interpretations don’t change the clear meaning of the declaration of independence; ditto for subsequent treaties etc which reflect later thought.

    @any sound understanding of history will reveal that governemtns that took any position of religion, wether it be pro-religion or atheist, always violated basic rights.

    Then go ahead and prove this for every case.

    @leads to a series of lies that are quite the opposite of what America is

    You seem to be missing the point: the language reflects the founder’s thoughts, not the present secularist paranoia of the current government.

    @the declaration still has no leagal power

    Which is again, entirely beside the point.

    Reply

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