The Declaration of Independence: An Expression of the American ‘Mind’
July 4th has rightly become more associated with the American people and American principles more than any other day on the calendar. It is a demonstration of this country’s culture as millions of patriotic Americans dress in red, white, and blue, wave American flags, attend fireworks shows, BBQ with friends and family, and attend baseball games.
The powerful words spoken by New York Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig on July 4, 1939 after being diagnosed with a fatal disease, “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” is a perfect statement for all of those who have been fortunate enough to live in the land of liberty.
America’s greatness lies in culture and ideas, both critical to what is conceived as “American exceptionalism.”
When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence it was meant as a formal separation of the American colonies from Great Britain, but also served as a statement of what he called the American “mind.” It was a reason for America’s being, and a profound description of the ideas that would make a set of lightly-populated colonies at the edge of civilization the very heart of Western power and principles.
Years after Jefferson wrote the Declaration, as the new United States was struggling to find its footing in the period just after the ratification of the Constitution, Jefferson was pressed on where he got the inspiration to write that amazing document.
Jefferson did not hesitate to give credit to the American people and claimed to merely be channeling the “self-evident truths” and timeless ideas that were expressed by most American patriots in 1776.
All American Whigs thought alike on these subjects. When forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles or new arguments never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we were about to take.
Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc.
Americans throughout this nation’s history have been fortunate that Jefferson and the Founding Fathers placed these principles at the heart of the new republic. It is our duty as citizens of a free country to protect and preserve their ancient faith. What they created was truly a “Novus Ordo Seclorum,” a new order for the ages, a system of government that would for the first time in history protect the individual rights of citizens and enshrine a set of principles into a country where men could be free.