Prior to America’s independence from Britain, the citizens of the British colonies in America were oppressed by a king named George III. Since George III was the king, the people had to live however he said because he was the supreme ruler. The people believed that King George had a God-given right to rule over them and that being the case, he was the only person who had any rights at all. In 1775 England, King George was sovereign. That is to say, inherent rights, such as freedom of speech and the ownership of private property, were not believed to be held by the individual, but rather, they were believed to be held by the king of England who was quite literally the government. The theory that kings alone were endowed by God with the authority to rule was known as “the divine right of kings.” It was through the application of this theory that the king claimed ownership over all the land in his kingdom. If you were fortunate enough, the king might grant you some land but even then it was understood that the king still owned it and could have it back at any time for any reason. Because the king was sovereign over the land, the land always belonged to him.
Because only the king was sovereign, not only did the land belong to the king but the people were essentially owned by the king as well. It was the king that established what social class you would be a part of. If you were lucky, the king might grant you a title of nobility and certain permissions with his land and people but it was still the king’s land and the people were still subjects of the king. It was the king that told you what you were and were not allowed to say. The king was the final authority on what religion you had to practice. The king also made the final decision on what taxes you must pay and how often you would pay them. The king was not a public servant, he was the absolute authority by virtue of being the son of the previous king. By way of nothing more than the simple luck of birthright the king was sovereign over his entire kingdom and everything in it and the ‘Divine Right of Kings” gave him the “natural right” to rule over all the people. There were instances in English history, though revolutionary and few, in which the English people declared, for specific issues, the supremacy of law over the traditional doctrine of the divine right of kings. You may remember hearing of such cases when studying documents such as the Magna Charta or The Petition of Right in history class. The most remarkable document to establish the principles of the rule of law came from the American colonies when the Second Continental Congress unanimously approved the Declaration of Independence to sever the political bonds that connected the colonies to Britain.
The specific purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to declare the separation of the American colonies from Britain. The Founding Fathers of American government believed that the sole purpose of government was to ensure the security of the people’s liberty and not for the security of the ruling elite. They also believed that the doctrine of the divine right of kings was an oppressive, moral transgression against humanity and that no government, man, or woman for that matter, had the right to rule over his fellow man without permission. Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and this date has been celebrated as the birthday of the United States of America ever since.
The Declaration of Independence is the cornerstone of American government. Although the United States Constitution provides us with the law that stands as the walls of American government, those walls only stand because of the self-evident truths and principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence. For example, look at the principles that Thomas Jefferson wrote into the text of the Declaration where it says “We hold these Truths to be self- evident, that all Men are created equal...” Stated here is the principle of equality. Although we are not created with equal physical attributes, abilities, or amounts of wealth, we are created equal under God and the Law. It is fundamentally important therefore that our system reflect this natural state of man by holding everyone equally accountable under the law so that everyone’s liberty might equally be protected. Furthermore, what you should really appreciate about this first principle of liberty is that it was being sent to a man whose power hinged on the lie that no one was created equal. By writing that this principle of equality was self evident, the founders basically told the king to grow up and move on from this fairytale belief that God divinely picked him to rule the world.
The Declaration of Independence goes on to point out that not only is it self evident that all men are created equal, but also, “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is highly important to understand that our rights do NOT come from other men, nor do they come from any government. So what does it mean that God gave us unalienable rights? Let’s break down the word “unalienable” by first defining the word “lien.” If you were to look up the word “lien” in a dictionary, you might find something like this:
Lien - a legal claim or a "hold" on some type of property.
So if our rights were “lienable” that means that someone would have a right to take them or hold them from us. The Declaration of Independence states that our rights are UN-A-LIENABLE, meaning that no one has any right to take them or hold them from us. Jefferson points out in the Declaration that among our unalienable rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Understand that Jefferson was not listing all our rights, he only said among our unalienable rights were life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are unalienable because they are part of our being, they are inherent and a part of us just as much as our thoughts and dreams are.
Although no one has a right to take your unalienable rights, it is possible for you to allow someone else to suppress them; at the most, you can let someone claim ownership over you. For example, if you tell me that someone has taken away your freedom of speech, I will tell you that it is only because you decided that you were unwilling to speak. At this point, to some extent or another, you have allowed yourself to be enslaved.
The Founders often referred to our unalienable rights as being part of the Laws of Nature. In other words, our inherent rights are self-evident in nature just as much as other laws we observe in the natural world such as the law of gravity or even the laws of mathematics. Your right to speech is illustrated by virtue that you have a mind that can independently think. You do not need anybody to tell you how to think your way through the simple task of collecting drinking water in a glass or forming opinions about the weather. You also do not have anybody controlling your thoughts as you react to a movie you recently watched, a speech you heard or a book you read. Only you are in direct control of your thoughts and it would seem absurd for the government to pass a law telling you what you are to think and what you are not allowed to think. It is absurd because there is no way for them to know exactly what your thoughts are. The government has absolutely zero control over your mind and even if you break the “thinking laws” how would the government know and how could it enforce compliance? Your thoughts are an inherent part of you and therefore unalienable because you own them and only you can control them. The same God who gave you a brain and mind of your own also gave you a tongue and an ability to communicate your thoughts. You were naturally born with the ability to verbally articulate your thoughts and so your freedom of speech is meant to be as natural as your natural ability to speak just as natural as your ability to speak; you are using the faculties that your Creator gave you in order to manifest your inherent rights. These natural rights are yours until you die, at the most, you may choose not to exercise them however, no one has any right to take them from you.
The Declaration of Independence is quite remarkable for this statement, “That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men.” This statement boldly declares that the only valid purpose behind the existence of any government is to do one thing: protect our individual unalienable and natural rights. Have you ever wondered how your tax money being sent to pay for a study on the mating habits of fleas does anything to protect your right to your own income? Have you ever wondered how Congress could introduce over 5,000 bills a year and all of them be for the protection of your rights? My guess is that most of those bills, in some way or another, do nothing more than infringe on your rights, even if it’s just by wasting your tax money or regulating what kind of light bulbs you are allowed to use. Now let me quote the previous part of the Declaration of Independence and continue on with the principle that defines the existence of the U.S. Constitution and tells you what this book is all about. This is the principle: “That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Let me touch on the last part of that quote where it says, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” It is from this that the principle of self-government is taken. From the Declaration of Independence, we can come to the conclusion that government is only legitimate if it does the following two things:
1. Secures and protects the inherent rights of the citizens
2. Operates with the consent of the citizens
One excellent way to establish your political world view would be to read the Declaration of Independence and use the principles it contains to filter what government does. In other words, if the government, at any level, is operating without having met the criteria listed above, then it may very well be infringing on your inherent, God-given rights to one extent or another. As you read through this book, you will understand that the U.S. Constitution was written with all the safeguards we need to keep our government accountable to the people so that we can stay free.
An important word to understand for general purposes when contemplating freedom is the word sovereignty. If you were to pick up a Black’s Law dictionary, you would most likely find a couple of definitions similar to these:
Sovereignty– Holding supreme dominion authority, or rule.
Sovereign– A person, body, or state bestowed with independent and supreme authority.
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote “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...” In other words, what our Founding Fathers were asserting was the fact that the King of England was not at all sovereign over the people. Simply because all men are created equal, all men are sovereign over their own persons, each one unto himself is bestowed with sovereignty at the moment of creation and therefore, each man, for lack of a better word, is his own king.
The easiest way to illustrate sovereignty is to give you the example of a man who owns one acre of land that borders an acre of your land. Lets say you notice that if you could walk across your neighbor’s land you could get to the grocery store faster. After some thought you decide that you would like to use his property for a quicker route but you know you will have to ask his permission. You must ask permission only because the land you want to use does not belong to you; you have no right to it. Let’s say that your neighbor does give you permission to walk across his land, but after three weeks he changes his mind and tells you he does not want you on his property anymore. As the owner of the land, he can do this without a reason because he is the supreme authority of his property; he is the chief ruler and he is sovereign of his land. You, however, can walk across your land, build fences on it, dig holes in it or burn your acre of land if you choose to because you own it; you have the right to it. You do not need to ask permission to exercise your rights to your land; you are sovereign. Now think about this: anytime you have to ask permission to do something you are asking permission only because you don’t have a right to it. You don’t need permission to exercise your rights.
It is important to understand that you are a sovereign individual. You are bestowed with the sole ownership of your person and therefore, you have the supreme authority over the inherent rights that God gave you at the exact moment of your creation. Your thoughts, as already discussed, are inherent because your thoughts cannot be separated from your mind and you are sovereign over your thoughts because you own them and you have the supreme authority over them and no one can take them from you. Alexander Hamilton may not have always been the best champion of limited government, but he was right when he explained,
“The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”
Just for further understanding, you, and only you, own the rights to your body as well as the right to do what is necessary to preserve your life. You have a conscience that is inherent and therefore cannot be separated from you either. You have the inherent right of self preservation just by the self evident laws of nature that show us that our bodies’ sole function is to keep us alive and that by virtue of being alive you have a natural right to continue living. Your individual and inherent rights will always be with you until the day you die simply because they cannot be extracted from your person; you are a sovereign individual.
Although inherent rights cannot be extracted from us, the evening news is a constant reminder of the oppressive totalitarian governments around the world that enslave their people with mountains of red tape, oppressive taxes, imprisonment or worse. History is littered with tyrants who claim ownership of the people; regulating their speech, their religious practices, their pursuit of happiness, etc. Although it would appear that sovereignty can be taken away from the individual, the truth still remains the same: all men are created equal and we are all endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights; rights that cannot be surrendered, sold or transferred to someone else.
One of our Founding Fathers, Patrick Henry, is remembered for a speech he gave in which he declared, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” What Mr. Henry is enlightening us to, is the fact that there is no middle ground between liberty and slavery. You are never only half free or only one third a slave; you are either free or you are not. Either you claim absolute ownership over yourself, or you do not. Those men and women throughout history who died fighting for their freedom did, in fact, die free. The point is this: you will always be free as long as you exercise your freedom, even if you exercise freedom in the face of opposition, you are still free. The day you surrender your freedom is the day you enslave yourself, the only other alternative to slavery is death, hence Mr. Henry’s famous quote, “Give me Liberty or give me death.” Patrick Henry was choosing to live free even if it meant death. The question is this: will you fold and give yourself over to slavery or will you exercise your sovereignty and live free even if it means death?
In 1843 a young Massachusetts scholar of twenty-one years old was doing some research on the last surviving veterans of the Revolutionary War. He met a man that was nearly 70 years older than him named Captain Levi Preston who fought at both Lexington and Concord. Nervously the student asked him, “Why did you go out to fight?” The elderly Captain was rather stunned at such an obvious question and didn’t say anything but rather painfully straightened his back in his chair to raise himself up to full height. The young researcher followed up saying, “Well obviously you went out to fight oppressions.” “We weren’t oppressed” said the old patriot. The young man then asked, “Well what about the Stamp Act?” to which the veteran replied, “Didn’t pay a penny for a one of them.” The young researcher was beginning to get a little confused so he asked Captain Preston, “Well what about the tea tax?” “Never drank a drop of it” said Preston, “the boys threw it into the harbor before we got there.” “Well what about the great books on freedom? You must have read Locke and Harrington and Sydney.” The young student was rather disappointed when the old man simply replied, “Never heard of them. The only books we had were the Bible, Isaac Watts hymn book and an almanac.” By this time the researcher was getting a little flustered and looking for some kind of reasonable answer he finally asked, “Well, why did you go out to fight?” It was then that this old patriot gave this immortal answer: “We had always been free and we intended to be free always and the red coats were in our way.”
After several years of bloodshed, the British finally recognized America’s Declaration of Independence. Soon afterward, a new government was created with the ratification of the United States Constitution. Written over the course of several months of debate, the U.S. Constitution was composed for the purpose of establishing a government designed solely to protect the individual rights of its citizens. Our Founding Fathers established new and innovative measures to ensure that the new American government would always be in the hands of the people so that the government could only operate with the consent and particular involvement of the citizens themselves.
The United States Constitution could not be complete without establishing within it the principles of individual sovereignty and self-government as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Americans, unlike the people of any other country, have a governing document designed for the protection of the individual. We have a Constitution that we can fly as a personal standard just as our forefathers flew the Gadsden flag. It is a document constructed with the principles to serve as a warning to our government should it ever undermine the security of our liberty. The warning is clear, “DON’T TREAD ON ME!”