Monday, July 04, 2016

What happened to the high ideals of the Declaration of Independence?

We are all moved by those eloquent words penned by Thomas Jefferson, but not only did the Founding Fathers borrow and misrepresent their intentions in the Declaration of Independence, the United States government has not lived up to the stated original goals.

Take the opening sentence:
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.
The Second Treatise Of Government by John Locke, published in 1690, states that the premise of all political power is “equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection.”

Was that really true for the United States?

We know than there was no thought given, implicitly or otherwise, to the equality of women (indeed, Southern lawmakers added “sex” as a protected class under the Civil Rights Act being debated in 1964, partly as a poison pill, partly as a joke). So let’s stick to men.

In what sense were the male African slaves or Indians equal? Or how about white indentured servants? Or was the point that the Creator endowed them with equality and certain rights, but hell if the Founding Fathers were going to follow suit?

This is not to mention the Jeffersonian claim in the Declaration that 
whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Here Jefferson went well beyond the Lockian writ. In effect, Locke had considered the question as follows:
May the commands then of a prince be opposed? may he be resisted as often as any one shall find himself aggrieved, and but imagine he has not right done him? This will unhinge and overturn all polities, and, instead of government and order, leave nothing but anarchy and confusion. To this I answer, that force is to be opposed to nothing, but to unjust and unlawful force; whoever makes any opposition in any other case, draws on himself a just condemnation both from God and man; and so no such danger or confusion will follow.
In fact, Locke’s views are reflected in the work of U.S. lawmakers over time.

In 1798, Congress passed four Alien and Sedition Acts that made it illegal for any person “with intent to oppose any measure … of the government” to “print, utter, or publish … any false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government. Citizens or foreigners were barred from opposing the execution of federal laws, preventing a federal officer from performing his or her duties, engaging in aid “any insurrection, riot, Unlawful Assembly, or combination” or make any defamatory statement about the federal government or the president.

The Sedition Act of 1918 added willfully employing “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language”  about the U.S. form of government, the Constitution, the flag, or U.S. military or naval forces.

In 1940 the Alien Registration Act allowed the government to detain any national of a country at war with the United States without trial.

These laws were used against Federalists, southern secessionists and more recent political dissenters including socialists, anarchists, pacifists and labor leaders. Not to mention foreigners.

Arguably, the democratic experiment has some ways to go.


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