I'll begin this post by admitting that I have an affinity for "declarations" and even for "manifestos." Whether they be particularly good or bad, the people writing such things have invested more passion in these documents than most people have ever invested in anything. By itself, I think that's worthy of respect. Right or wrong, the people who write such things are actively living… they are energetically engaging with herculean issues.
This world would be a lot farther along if more people had the courage and drive to do such things. It takes a lot of guts to write and publish a manifesto.
I further admit that I'm an ardent and long-time admirer of Thomas Jefferson.
And so, today I'm editing Jefferson's Declaration on Independence. I'm really changing only one aspect of it, though it's a significant aspect: I'm taking out the politics. And that, interestingly enough, leaves us with a document that revolves around morality and liberty.
Here are a few editorial notes on my version:
As much as I admire the preamble to the Declaration ("When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…."), it's about politics: nations separating themselves and so on. My version is apolitical. Like many others, I'm convinced that politics is, to use an American legal phrase, "fruit from the poisonous tree." It derives from the practice of men ruling over other men, and I find that whole exercise degenerate.
I'm ignoring all the complaints against King George. They're also tied to politics, as well as being way out of date.
Likewise I'm ignoring all the complaints about Britain in general.
In order to keep the document pertinent to Americans, I've left the remaining text unchanged. That is, except for removing political material and doing some minor rewording around it, I have altered not a single word. I even left the old-style capitalizations in place. You can check the original text here.
This version, then, is shorter than the original. It's also, and more importantly, an enlightening read. And it certainly should be for Americans, who tend to claim it as the justification for their way of life.
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 when any organization becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to separate from it, and to institute new arrangements, laying their foundations on such principles and organizing them in such forms, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that established arrangements should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, 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 arrangements, and to provide new arrangements.
We, therefore, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of good people everywhere, solemnly publish and declare, That we are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent; that we are Absolved from all Allegiance and have full Power to conduct our own affairs.
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.
My Own Experience
My eyes opened to the Declaration in High School, where a copy of it hung on a schoolroom wall. I read the second section – "We hold these truths…" – and was awestruck by it.
My first impression, and a powerful one, was that this was the truth… that the ideas underneath this were the right ideas to live by… the right way to order my life.
My second impression, coming a second or two later from I know not where, was very simple:
No one believes this.
But whether anyone believes them or not, the core principles of the Declaration – the core principles of what's written above – define a moral universe suited to all decent men and women. I think we should take it seriously.
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As it turns out, history was never too hard to understand; they just told you the wrong story.
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