As a follow up to Savannah’s post about some of the early English and Scottish documents that played a part in the fight for liberty, I would like to talk about two important American documents that were influenced by those documents, the Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights. But before we delve into these documents, let’s look at where our founding fathers were coming from when they wrote them.
When the American colonies started experiencing oppression, they knew their history and their government. They were familiar with the age-old battle between liberty and tyranny throughout English history. They saw the corruption of the English government and the slavery that comes as a result of a few (or one) ruling over many. But, they also knew about the documents Savannah discussed last week, that had been written in order to keep their kings accountable.
Consequently, they realized that the king of England, King George, was not following the guidelines laid out in the Magna Carta and other documents. They knew that even though George was a king, he didn’t have some special exemption from the laws.
Because of their knowledge of these things, they knew their king had no right to dissolve “Representative Houses,” refuse to pass just laws, manipulate judges’ salaries based on their compliance with what he wanted, or over-tax the colonies while not allowing any representation of them.
So, you see, the king was breaking the law. He was not obeying rules already established in the 1100 Charter of Liberties and the Magna Carta. This gave the founding fathers the right and duty to keep government in check. On numerous occasions, our founding fathers petitioned King George to retract his arbitrary and unlawful rulings, but the king refused. The people of the colonies suffered for some time, but finally, they had had enough. They believed that at some point it “becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…”.
It was on this foundation that our founding fathers and mothers sought liberation from oppressive government. Thomas Jefferson, along with several others, compiled their beliefs in our glorious Declaration of Independence, which is the first document we will discuss today.
As I mentioned in the beginning, we will now look at how some of those early documents influenced the Declaration of Independence. The Magna Carta is the main document that influenced the Declaration, and these two documents are similar, in that, they both showed the king that he was accountable to the people. Also, when the king oppressed them and refused to hear their petitions for redress, the documents would allow the people to separate themselves from English rule.
This Declaration of Independence led to the formation of good government, which would allow liberty flourish in America; the people would be free! As I talked about a couple weeks ago in my post, “Why Liberty?,” we have seen the countless blessings that have come from this liberty. And although it required the blood of human lives, the American people valued their liberty so much that in the Declaration they stated this: “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
That is how much it meant to them, and it should mean just as much to us today. We, as young people, play an extremely important role in the preservation of our liberties. As Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” To follow up this amazing, yet chilling quote, let me say this: the young people of America need to wake up and realize that freedom has never come by accident; it has always been bought at a dear price. Even so, the price does not outweigh the benefits, and, I tell you today, that if you enjoy the liberties we have in this nation, it is your duty to fight to preserve them!
After our desperate, yet successful War for Independence, we learned that the Articles of Confederation, written during the war, were not suitable to good government, and our Constitution was written.
Our Bill of Rights, which is the next document we will discuss, is the first ten amendments to our Constitution.
The Bill of Rights was also influenced by early English documents, but again, specifically by the Magna Carta. In fact, Amendments 5 and 6 of the Bill of Rights come from Provision 20 and 21 of the Magna Carta.
Some of the founding fathers did not want the Bill of Rights. They feared that someday it would lead to the government redefining these rights, and changing them to mean something they never intended, thus, making it easier to steal these rights from people and states. The author of the Bill of Rights, James Madison, feared, however, that if they did not lay out these rights, the people would forget what these specifically were. He believed that, as a result, the government would try to steal them, simply because of the ignorance of the people.
You see, our Bill of Rights was a “just in case” measure, so to speak. These rights were laid out, not as an excuse for more government, but as a means by which we can keep the government accountable and help defend these liberties.
As American citizens, we must make sure that neither of are founding fathers’ fears become prophecy. This means that we have a big job! Our founding fathers laid out an incredible form of government, but we the people still have to work to keep it in line, and this is what prompted Benjamin Franklin to state that we have been given “a republic – if you can keep it.”
This is what has been won for us. Will we just sit by as modern day King Georges seek to steal our liberties from us? I pray we will not.
I want to end with this quote from Thomas Jefferson:
“We in America do not have government by the majority – we have government by the majority who participate… All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for the people of good conscience to remain silent.”