The Colonies and Britain had been together for a while, but as Britain started increasing taxes without giving the Colonies a say, forcing their soldiers into colonists’ homes, limiting the colonists’ ability to expand westward, and limiting their self-government, the colonists started to wonder if they were in a toxic relationship. Frustration led to harsh words, tea dumped in Boston harbor, and real shots fired. A year into the fight, the Colonies finally announced their grievances and broke up with the British Empire, thus beginning the great American experiment. Many people see the Declaration’s importance end there and rely on the Constitution alone to understand America and Americanism; but, in doing so, limit their understanding of the Constitution and the vision for America the Founders had. Instead of simply being a break up text, the Declaration of Independence provides the vision and the description of the healthy relationship that citizens should have with their government; the Constitution is the “relationship agreement” that puts that vision into action. Without understanding the vision, the structure cannot be fully understood.
What are the principles that lead to a healthy relationship between citizens and government and allow for the most enjoyment of freedom and prosperity? “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 to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” In other words, there is a God, our rights come from Him, and the government’s role is to protect these rights. These self-evident truths provided the vision that guided the founding of the new American government and explained the form of government the Constitution establishes. These truths remain critical today, not only in understanding the Constitution, but in providing answers to major issues, such as: the government’s role in healthcare and if it’s a right, and if the government can coerce a business to provide services.
These truths expressed in the vision of the Declaration of Independence answer these problems and more by answering two fundamental questions: 1) where do rights come from and 2) what is the role of the state? As stated above, the Founders knew that rights come not from the government, but from God. God created all men and women and gave them rights that transcend countries, governments, and time; the only restriction being that individuals cannot violate the rights of another. These rights from God are abilities that individuals have independent of others and do not require consent. These rights include: right to believe as one chooses, right to associate or not associate with others, right to own and control property, right to protect oneself, right to speak one’s mind, right to control one’s labor, right to worship God, and right to protect personal privacy. With rights being inherent to our nature, governments cannot create rights such as a right to healthcare or a right to an abortion. Government usurps God in attempting to create new rights and can only do so by violating the rights of other individuals.
The Declaration of Independence’s answer to the question, “What should the role of government be?” is crucial to a healthy relationship between citizens and government. The legitimate role of government is that of protecting and preserving rights, not creating them and certainly not violating them. The government cannot legitimately coerce a business to provide goods or services to someone against their will, or take someone’s money and give it to another, or force insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions without expressly violating its purpose. Each of these actions violate the rights of the citizens that government was created to protect. Government protects our rights from each other, preventing us from violating the rights of others by not allowing us to take the property or labor of someone against their will, or to deny them their right to life. When government stands aside and allows individuals to be forced to provide services or face punishment, that government becomes immoral and violates its own purpose. When government is the one coercing or violating the rights it was made to protect by threatening imprisonment or denying people’s rights altogether, it becomes tyrannical. The relationship with Britain was toxic because it violated the rights of the Colonies. The Colonists wanted to ensure that they would not be in another relationship like this again, so the Founders endeavored to organize a government that would fulfill this vision, and did so in The Constitution. They created a system that would protect citizens from not only the tyranny of the majority, but also government tyranny.
These truths guided the framing of the Constitution, and the Constitution became the embodiment of this vision. However, knowledge of these “keys to a healthy relationship with government” have been forgotten and purposefully ignored, robbing the American people of the guiding lights that lead to a healthy relationship with government. This has led to the people/government relationship becoming toxic again in many ways, such as judicial overreach and punishment of businesses for acting on their religious beliefs. The Founders knew that if a government fails to protect the rights it was instituted to protect, then it is the right and duty of citizens to rise up and remove that government and “to provide new Guards for their future security.” We have the responsibility as citizens to rise up, be the New Guards, and restore the proper bounds and purpose of government by championing these truths and supporting political candidates who truly understand and believe these truths. By fulfilling our role as citizens and educating ourselves as to what the Founders said in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, we can make our relationship with the government healthy again.