Recovering the Spirit of 1776

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Michael Farris is the CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, and founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College. Follow Michael on Twitter at @AllianceDefends.

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The Declaration of Independence, like the Constitution, is now under sustained attack by those from the “woke left.” They contend that our founding was fundamentally flawed, that America was created by white men and for white men exclusively.

 

As a consequence, they claim that America’s foundations must be torn asunder and a new foundation for a new society erected in its place.

 

The core factual claim that buttresses this dangerous line of reasoning is that slavery was still permitted in 1776. And they believe many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were hypocrites since they owned slaves.

 

This is the entire premise of the New York Times “1619 Project” that seeks to indoctrinate every child (and every willing adult) in Critical Race Theory.

 

The answer to these charges begins with a clearer understanding of the nature of 1776.

 

It is a sophomoric argument to claim that America was born in racism by pointing to the importation of slaves in 1619. The simple fact is that the United States of America was born 157 years after 1619. In 1619, our portion of North America was a collection of British colonies.

 

It was the British government that continued its racist policies of the expansion of African slavery that led to the introduction of this detestable institution to our shores.

 

The whole purpose of the Declaration of 1776 was to throw off that government and start afresh. The key language from the Declaration of Independence is very familiar:

 

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, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

 

Three fundamental principles were to be at the center of the new nation.

 

All men are created equal.

 

We are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.

 

Just governments are based on the consent of the governed.

 

Let’s pause and ask an important question: were any of these concepts a reality in 1776?

 

No, not one of them. These principles were not where we were, it was a description of where we were going. These were the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of this new nation.

 

Full equality was not the only thing missing at that moment. Self-government and the protection of inalienable rights were also very much in jeopardy. The reality of each of these concepts lay somewhere in the future — but these dreams were the direction that the Founders of our nation wanted to go even if it cost them their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

 

These were great ideals. But did every one of the signers of the Declaration live up to its lofty words? No. Several were slave owners, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

 

Did the governments that they created — first, the Articles of Confederation and then, 11 years after the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States — immediately fulfill all of these ideals?

 

No. It took until 1791 — a full 15 years after the Declaration of Independence — to adopt the Bill of Rights. And it took longer, much longer, painfully longer, to make substantial progress on the promise of equality.

 

But America was not built on the personal fidelity of the Founders to these promises — America was built on these core principles themselves.

 

All men are created equal.

 

All are endowed by God with certain inalienable rights.

 

Government is to be by the consent of the governed — not just the privileged few but all of the governed.

 

These ideals were bigger than the men who wrote them.

 

Every advancement towards equality throughout our history has been based on calling our nation to live up to the principles of the Declaration — not tearing down the founding and its universal ideals.

 

The woke critics want to destroy every element of the founding —equality for all, God-given rights for all, and self-government.

 

They intend to coerce us into their woke utopia where some are more equal than others and where freedom and God-given rights are a distant memory.

 

We can and must recover the spirit of 1776 by standing firm on its principles: equality for all, freedom for all, and self-government. No other formula is worthy of this great nation.