The Declaration of Independence, unique in the holy trinity of the founding documents, is not a “how to” manual for governance. While the Constitution defines the scope of government and the Bill of Rights refines it, the Declaration is an altogether different thing. It is a statement of ideals written before the notion of liberty in America was a given and before there was a question of what that liberty would mean to those who lived in the outposts of empire.
One of the most frustrating aspects of teaching the Declaration, or of listening to pundits discuss its meaning on television, is that it is so often misinterpreted. If you study the Declaration, literally read the text, you discover that there are no guarantees made, no specially protected groups identified, or really any discussion of anything other than opportunity; the opportunity for the 13 united States to lay down their list of grievances and reasons for war against Crown and parliament and the opportunity of the people to better their lives and secure their liberty. The natural rights of the Declaration in no way guarantee that we will all live happily, but that we will have the opportunity to pursue happiness. The founders well understood that no state was perfectly free to pursue its own course any more than an individual is perfectly free to flail is arms wildly in a crowded room. Perfect freedom of the individual and the state is constrained at the point where the rights and freedoms of other individuals begin.
The Declaration reminds us all that neither government nor individuals is empowered to deliver us safely to the other shore. Each of us is free to set our own course, to pursue our own happiness where we find it. If you believe you deserve more from life, work for it… don’t blame others for preventing you from reaching your objective. We are responsible for our own destinies and when we fail to strive for what we want, or seek out the next opportunity, then shame on us, because we tarnish the idealism that is our birthright.
On this, 233rd anniversary of Independence, I remain an unabashed and unapologetic patriot. I believe the United States has been and continues to be the last, best hope of earth and that there is nothing more fine in this world or the next than simply being an American.