In light of the recent SCOTUS ruling regarding affirmative action and the approaching July 4th holiday, the most important principles of the Declaration bear revisiting.

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The Declaration of Independence was not a string of fluffy words presenting an argument for the moment. The founders knew they were laying the foundation for a system of self-government based on ideals that, if not ultimately fulfilled in their own lifetimes, would have the very best opportunity to come to fruition in generations to come. Thus, the words they chose point to lasting, undeniable truths.

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.

Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, 1776

Context is critical.

When the founders were drafting and refining the Declaration they turned to the Enlightenment philosophies of John Locke. Specifically, Locke’s views regarding equality and natural law. They applied these principles in defense of their position and as justification for revolution.

The words, “all men are created equal” in this case, refer to humanity in general. Specifically, to the right of the American colonies to throw off the yoke of British control.

Over the years, the men who wrote the Declaration have faced harsh criticism. Most of it focused on those five words.

Without context, it’s easy to pass judgment. Even easier to question the founders’ motives and sincerity. How could they, after all, write about equality, while at the same time not abiding by its meaning? That is unfair.

First, it belittles their sacrifices and devalues the significant contributions they made to found this great nation. Second, it undermines the very documents they authored and the free government they established. Finally, and most importantly, it reduces our historical lens to a very narrow and biased perspective.

Before being so quick to pass judgment, we should instead ask ourselves where would we be now without our founders and the principles they believed in and so willingly fought for.

The founders understood that the strength of the Declaration lay not in the reality in which they wrote it, but in the true and lasting change it inspired. They were correct in this assessment.

America’s almost 250-year history demonstrates the power of their words as successive generations took up the mantle and fought and died to bring America ever closer to achieving the ideals they pointed us to.

The foundation for our civil liberties and rights lies in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution that followed.

It was the founders’ foresight, wisdom, and perseverance that paved the way for all of us. The Constitution protects our rights. It also guarantees specific liberties and freedoms our government cannot abridge, withhold, or remove. Finally it guarantees our right to equal treatment and equal protection under the law.

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights, both explicitly stated and inferred, define and protect our civil liberties.

With Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. looking over his shoulder, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. This act, prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal. It was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction ( National Archives). | A year later, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was also signed into law. | Image by WikiImages from Pixabay 

Since the beginning, we’ve made significant progress protecting and ensuring the equality and freedom the founding generation fought for.

Our civil rights grew out of necessity. Designed to recognize the free-decision making required for individual autonomy, our civil rights protect us from discrimination based on defined characteristics like race, age, religion, gender, etc.

Our civil rights are defined and protected through federal legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, are examples of civil rights bills that have become law.

Through the years, the waters between civil rights and personal choice have become clouded, often by design. However, the founders never intended for the government to meddle in the personal lives of its people. In fact, they worked hard to prevent that very thing. They asserted that as long as our personal choices do not violate societal laws or endanger others, they are between ourselves and God.

But, political overreach in this area was almost a given. This is precisely why Roe v. Wade, for example, made its way to the Supreme Court in the first place. And why it was ultimately deemed unconstitutional.

The muddied waters between equality and equity are really not that muddy at all.

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It is the same with the murky line between equality and equity. The founders were clear on this principle from the beginning; Equality is equal treatment NOT equal things.

According to our founding principles, all mankind is equal before God, equal before the law, and equal in their rights. As such, according to the laws of nature, all mankind is guaranteed freedom to try, freedom to buy, freedom to sell, and freedom to fail. In their view it’s not the government’s role to meddle in the personal freedoms and liberties of its people, only to protect them.

But, like personal choice, equity is a political tool that has been used to push things like affirmative action. The fact that the Supreme Court deemed affirmative action unconstitutional is not wrong. It should have never been put in place to begin with. Attempting to fight racism with racism was never going to work. As a country, we’ve come too far and sacrificed too much to be pulled back into that mindset. At least I pray we have.

Opinion polls have shown for decades—that Americans on the whole oppose racial favoritism.

George Leef, A Broad and Devastating Offensive Against Racial Preferences, May 2021

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It is our duty to protect and defend our founding principles.

On this July 4th, rather than condemning the founding generation, we should thank them. It was their wisdom that established our principles of freedom, liberty, and equality in the first place. We should also remember and honor the generations that followed who fought and died to preserve and protect them.

More importantly, we should remember that it is our responsibility to continue to uphold them. We have a sacred duty to protect and defend them from forces, both internal and external, seeking to undermine and destroy them, not just for ourselves but for the generations to come.

I pray that God continues to bless America, the last best hope of earth.

JN Fenwick (©2023) | JN Fenwick is a Florida-based, former US History Teacher and writer.

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