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founding principles

Laws of Nature "The laws of nature and of nature's God" are the beginning point of the political theory of the American founding. They explain the Founders' decision to declare America's independence from England. But what does this phrase mean? First, it means that nature encompasses laws: certain obligations are prescribed for all human beings by nature--or more specifically, by the fact that all humans share a common nature. Today, some scientists claim that "nature knows no morals." For the Founders, that is what one might expect to hear from a tyrant like Hitler or Stalin, but not anyone who understands that human nature itself, rightly understood, provides objective standards of how human life should be lived. Second, "laws of nature" are laws that can be grasped by human reason. The Founders did not believe-as one often hears today-that there is a right to liberty because "who's to say what's right or wrong?" The Founders were not moral relativists. To the contrary, they boldly proclaim that they grasp certain fundamental principles or moral and political conduct. Third and finally, the "laws of nature," accessible in principle to any person anywhere in the world who thinks clearly about the nature of human beings, mean that the American founding is not based on ideas specifically tied to one people, such as "the rights of Englishmen," but on ideas that are true for all people everywhere. We will begin to see what some of these ideas or principles are in the Declaration's second paragraph. Nature's God * The Declaration of Independence contains a theological teaching because the ultimate source of our rights and duties is God. There are four references to God in the Declaration: The "laws of nature and of nature's God" entitle the United States to independence. Men are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." Congress appeals "to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions." The signers, "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence," pledge to each other their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. The term "nature's God" refers to that which responsible for human (and the rest of) nature being what it is. It is a way of speaking of God insofar as God is knowable by human reason. In other words, our minds, unassisted by divine revelation, can figure out that there is such a thing as human nature, and that there are laws or rules that we must follow if we are to live justly and well. Reason can see that if we violate those laws, we will suffer such evils as death, slavery, or misery. A New England preacher explained the concept in this way: "The law of nature (or those rules of behavior which the Nature God has given men, . . . fit and necessary to the welfare of mankind) is the law and will of the God of nature, which all men are obliged to obey. . . . The law of nature, which is the Constitution of the God of nature, is universally obliging. It varies not with men's humors or interests, but is immutable as the relations of things." (Abraham Williams, Election Sermon, Boston 1762.) a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes Out of respect for the opinions of mankind, the Founders will state the reasons that they are declaring independence from England and founding a new nation. These reasons, as we will learn in the following sentence, begin with the fundamental principles of government. Reasons are important to explaining America in a way they are not to other nations, because America is founded on the basis of ideas rather than ancestral traditions or divine revelation. But what does it mean that the Founders respect mankind's opinions? It does not mean that they are drawing on those opinions. After all, the Declaration of Independence is a revolutionary document; it represents something brand new. Rather, this respect means that the Founders believe that any person of good will and common sense will be reasonable enough to understand the justice of the American's cause. In his letter to Henry Lee of May 8, 1823, Jefferson said that the Declaration was intended to "place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take." James Madison wrote in Federalist no. 14: "Is it not the glory of the people of America, that whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience? To this manly spirit, posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world for the example of the numerous innovations displayed on the American theatre, in favor of private rights and public happiness." WE hold these Truths to be self-evident The Founders are about to state four truths that they describe as self-evident. But they know that nearly every other political power on earth denied these truths. In what sense, then, can they be called "self-evident"? The phrase "self-evident truth" has a particular meaning in the western philosophical tradition. It means a proposition whose truth is known as soon as the definitions of the terms in question are known. For example, one knows it is a self-evident truth that "a whole is equal to the sum of its parts," as soon as one understands the definitions of "whole," "sum," and "parts." For those who do not understand the definitions--for instance, using the example above, for someone who doesn't know what "sum" means-a self-evident truth does not appear true. Nonetheless, it is. they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights The Declaration's second self-evident truth follows from and explains the principle of equality: human beings are born with unalienable rights. "Unalienable" means non-transferable: people can't surrender these rights, even voluntarily. No one is born with a right to sell himself into

Happiness is not something we have by nature. and therefore all men are entitled to the free exercise of religion. The right to vote and freedom of speech are means necessary to ensure this second form of consent." The Founders generally used expressions like "republican" or "popular" government for government by consent. Using the example above. and misery. 51. can be directed only by reason and conviction. If someone takes them away. upon a regular basis. in some way. but when men live without government. the right to liberty is unalienable. and the Pursuit of Happiness The Declaration specifically mentions three rights which human beings possess by birth or by nature-life.g. liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When people set up a government. Governments are instituted among Men The Declaration's third self-evident truth answers the question. liberty. As explained in the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776: "religion. Nor. This second form of consent arises from the fact that the right to liberty is unalienable. or the duty which we owe to our Creator. meaning that one never gives it up at all. the person who took the clothes or books has a duty to return them--or rather he has a duty not to take them in the first place. and each citizen with the whole people. they often said "life." It denounces the king of Britain for keeping among us "standing armies. The right of conscience means religious freedom. no one rightfully assigns to a government absolute authority over his freedom of action." As with happiness. they must give up some of the power they had in the state of nature. a right to life." may we rightfully surrender them. These are among the rights specifically guaranteed in the Constitution's first ten amendments. he has a "right" to them. No one may rightfully deny us these things. or the rights people are born with. as long as one does not injure oneself or others. according to the dictates of conscience." After the people join together to form a government. Outside of government. As James Madison explained in Federalist no. secondly to liberty. For every person with a right. We should note also that a right from one point of view is a duty from another. on the condition that government secures our rights. when taxes go to pay for judges and for national defense). but a right to use one's talents to acquire property. They come to own such property either by receiving it as a gift--for instance. they are not simply rational. Thus the Declaration speaks later of a people's "right of representation in the legislature. or by way of one's nature as a human being. people may not rightfully give government the right to kill or enslave them or confiscate their property (except as restitution for injuries committed). thirdly to property. and happiness. of course. the original owner has a legitimate claim to get them back. they were at the heart of the dispute which led to the American Revolution. slavery. also called natural rights. The Declaration implies that these rights are not secure outside of government. But people are born with rights to earn and keep such property. For instance. But what is a "right"? A right is a claim that a person may rightfully make against someone who would deprive him of what is his own. have our agreement." They have natural rights. We have others in addition. and to use it as one sees fit. there are an indefinite number of persons who have a duty to respect that right." and for "imposing taxes on us without our consent. how should government operate? The answer: by the consent of the governed. People aren't born with clothes and books. they must also give their consent. Rather we are born with minds and talents that we may use to pursue happiness. For example. Consent has two forms: consent in establishing government and consent in operating government. why do men establish government? The answer: to secure natural rights. But in another sense. The Declaration says that these three rights are "among" our natural rights. in the state of nature. that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good. among these are Life. In this sense. or to authorize another person to kill him. men are not angels-that is. Among the most important of these are the rights of conscience and property. liberty. to secure these Rights. people are in what the Founders called "the state of nature. But people accept some restraints on the liberty they enjoyed in the natural state for the sake of more secure liberty.slavery. one gives up the right to punish wrongdoers and gives that right to government. "the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger. When Americans at the time listed the rights of man." Boston's 1772 "Rights of the Colonists" were typical: "Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First. Liberty. but rather by violent death.. and no one rightfully gives up his ultimate right to revolt against a tyrannical government. to its operations. and the manner of discharging it. known as the Bill of Rights. not by force or violence. As for property rights. For instance. One surrenders liberty conditionally: we give some of it to government. and property. deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed The second question addressed by the Declaration's third self-evident truth is. These rights. The Declaration goes on specifically to mention three of them. one surrenders some of the natural right to liberty. even the decent may be tempted to act according to their selfish passions rather than their reason and duty. this is not a right to property itself. The first-also called the "social compact "-was well defined in the Massachusetts state constitution of 1780 as an association "by which the whole people covenants with each citizen. As James Madison put it in the same number of The Federalist. are rightful claims to what one owns by birth. If a person owns clothes or books. they give a portion of their property for the greater protection of the right of acquisition (e. It is worth remarking that the Declaration does not proclaim a right to happiness itself." Each of us has a right to worship God in his own way and time. The government must. Because of this-and so that they can enjoy their rights in peace-people join to form governments. One cannot rightly consent to a government that rules without going back to the people for their ongoing consent. Consent means agreement or choice. The state of nature is characterized not by life. a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only." In such a state. "Democracy" is the term . without the consent of our legislatures. since they are "unalienable. those rights are jeopardized. from parents or friends--or by working to earn it. or else it has no "just powers" over us. That is.

. Second. [We are] with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live slaves. A revolution is a two-edged sword. our Fortunes. the people should get rid of it and set up a new one. As Jefferson wrote: "the republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind. if we basely entail hereditary bondage upon them. If rights come first." Prudence. If his misbehavior had been only occasional. it may exacerbate the disease it is designed to cure. In the first part of the list. That is why the Declaration concludes with these noble words: "We pledge to each other our lives. will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes The right to revolution does not mean that it is right or good to overthrow any government for any cause. liberty. on domestic politics. forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we have received from our gallant ancestors. The Declaration speaks of rights. the existence of subordinate governments. but it does not seem to have much to say about duties. "it is their right. but the security of the Americans' rights to life and liberty. by local governments. This means that there is a pattern of events showing that the king has repeatedly denied the right of the American colonies to govern themselves through their own elected legislatures. . and above all by imposing Parliament's laws and taxes on the Americans without their consent. or for other reasons.S. and that he has repeatedly failed to secure their rights to life. These rights are unstated in the Declaration but were endorsed by the entire founding generation: the right to keep and bear arms and the right to be governed. where extreme passions will be released and violence may become uncontrolled. The Declaration says. predicted that the French. the emphasis shifts to foreign policy. During the French Revolution of the 1790s. proved Morris correct. it is their duty. . It may in fact require the sacrifice of one's own life. Toward the end of the list. History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations. His more recent actions are particularly destructive of American rights. would end up not with freedom but with a despotism worse than the one they replaced. The King is said to aim at tyranny. In other words. in its second paragraph. the Declaration turns to the facts of the King of England's government of America. but repeatedly and over a long period. by doing things unauthorized by America's legislatures. who at that time were in Morris's judgment very deficient in moral self-restraint. liberty. the Founders emphatically placed their honor and duty ahead of their private rights. it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it The Declaration's fourth and final self-evident truth is that when a government destroys rather than secures its citizens' unalienable rights. and happiness. and humanity. and our sacred honor. This follows logically from the preceding principles. James Madison wrote in Federalist no. For this reason. looking out for one's own life. This duty is higher than one's own personal survival or selfish interest. justice. the Declaration's teaching does not mean that every country everywhere in the world should overthrow its government if it is not democratic. and only in conditions where the prospect for success is good. . . Honor. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them. Like a dangerous drug. The length of the list of "injuries and usurpations" which follows is meant to demonstrate that the King has acted tyrannically. but there may be peoples who are currently incapable of self-government. the most obvious theme is violation of the consent principle. The Declaration's third self-evident truth means that what we call democracy is the only fully legitimate form of government. 46: "Besides the advantage of being armed. to which the people are attached and by which the militia officers are appointed. and the king's attacks on the lives and property of the colonists through his making war on America. prudence would have dictated that the revolution not be undertaken. there is an implicit or explicit claim that the king has either violated the purpose of government ("to secure these rights"). and approved by the Continental Congress in 1775: "We have counted the cost of this contest. Democracy is the form of government that conforms best to the principles of just government. what seems to come first in the Declaration is selfishness. because they have been corrupted by despotism. Contrary to this view. a leading author of the U. . or the principle of government by consent. they would never have believed that slavery and dishonor are worse even than death. First and most obviously. The Founders' clearest statement of this conviction occurs in the "Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Their Taking up Arms. Constitution. It throws men back into the state of nature. Therefore. This explains why the Americans are justified in resorting to revolution. and the pursuit of happiness. in local affairs. and the dictatorship of Napoleon. not just once or twice. Government exists to protect rights. it seems that our obligations to others are contingent on our rights. The king has repeatedly interfered with the colonists' right to govern themselves through their elected representatives. our fortunes. those citizens have a right to revolution.preferred today." If the Founders really believed that selfish interest was the foundation of human rights. That is true even if the government is not entirely based on the consent of the governed. it would be foolish and wrong to overthrow a government that was performing its proper duty--securing the rights of its citizens." Honor and duty are superior to rights and self-interest. that when a people is subjected to a long train of abuses aiming at absolute despotism. in each one of the charges that follow. Gouverneur Morris. prudence--or sound judgment of particular circumstances-tells us that people should think long and hard before trying to overthrow any government." co-authored by Jefferson and John Dickinson. the specific character of the laws and policies that the king has blocked or imposed is also mentioned. and our sacred Honor A common twentieth-century criticism of the founding is that it enshrines the principle of self-interest at the heart of the regime. The ensuing Terror. and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny Having laid out the principles of just government. indeed. This is to show that it is not only consent. forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition. In this list of domestic grievances. and if the first right is the right to life. by closing down or harassing or vetoing the actions of American legislative bodies. if it isn't doing this. that the king has violated. our Lives. we are told. Revolution should only be prescribed to the worst sorts of diseases. however evil. ." to change the government. But the King's actions can only be recognized as tyrannical in light of the self-evident truths listed previously." whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends. more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Two other rights arise from the right to revolution. which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation. They are the ultimate justification for the American Revolution and the American founding.

and so may be rightfully resisted." To usurp is to seize or assume something wrongfully--in this case. The states are "united" into "one people. that is." To what does "this" refer? To the preceding lines. This power." That is. There had been long quarrels between the American colonial legislatures. a decent respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation The Declaration refers to the "causes which impel [the Americans] to the Separation. The same is implied by the phrase "our constitution" (singular. Tyranny may be defined. The "United States" is/are sovereign in the realm of their internal domestic affairs. let Facts be submitted to a candid World Note the archaic use of "candid. or the principle that government must be by consent. represented by a single Congress. in the American view. Because the British government had violated the principles of just government. One obvious answer is "WE. it is not only they who hold these truths. assembled" (line 65). "to secure these rights. all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. as a form of government that violates the principles of the consent of the governed and securing the unalienable rights of the people." This implies that the new United States is a single country. distinct from the people of the kingdom of Great Britain. 16-19. One should continually ask. as the Declaration charted." Jefferson is of course referring to King George III. which demands that government secure the unalienable rights of the governed on the basis of the consent of the governed. over policy and taxes. The long political union between Britain and the colonies. "this" refers to lines 19-20: "The History of the present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations. Why was it wrong for King George to do this or that? Jefferson must demonstrate that King George has shown that he intends to establish a tyranny over the states to justify the assertion in the Preamble that it has now become necessary for the people of America to separate themselves from Great Britain. as well. was a divisive issue in American politics until the Civil War. and independent of Britain in all. political power. Prior to his reign. The History of the present King of Great-Britain In referring to "the history of the present King. King George III ("the present King of Great-Britain) has repeatedly shown. because of its repeated violation of the equality principle. dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another Whether the American people were in truth "one people" was a matter of great controversy between them and the British." This was strong language indeed. in most of their affairs. in various ways to be enumerated in what follows in the text of the Declaration. This should be kept in mind when reading the charges against the King. It was during his reign that the disagreements and tensions between the Americans and the British government became acute." Note also the word "usurpation. the representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. but never to the point of an open break. This charge refers to the fact that several of the colonies had been obliged from their establishment to submit their laws to the King for his approval. To prove this. from the point of view of the Declaration. a separate people from the British. the Americans were British subjects." Jefferson indicates that the laws that were vetoed were intended to accomplish the fundamental purpose of government stated in the preamble. King George's actions displayed the intention of establishing "an absolute Tyranny over these States. whose reign began in 1760. WE hold these Truths to be self-evident The reader may wonder who "WE" are who hold these truths." in this case meaning "unbiased. HE has refused his Assent to Laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good. American relations with the British were often strained. elected by the people. but the people of the United States. In each case. wishing to protect this profitable British trade." Note that Jefferson does not refer to them as "colonies" but as "states. In the British view. But now. it was now time to separate. and it reflected the Americans' conviction that the British government was no longer content to allow the colonies to govern themselves. The point of the long list of the charges against the King was to demonstrate to all the world that King George was a tyrant. but a single political entity in its/their dealings with the outside world. the Americans were forced to separate themselves from England. the Declaration implies. or both. was never consistent with the fundamental principle of just government: consent. the conclusion of the Declaration asserts that we are "free and independent states" (plural)." In the Preamble. and officials appointed by the king. therefore. that he intends to establish an absolute tyranny over "these States. in GENERAL CONGRESS. Since the Representatives of the United States of America have been duly elected by the American people. [LINK TO IT] The King. as Jefferson explicitly stated in his original draft of the declaration. they were forced to revolt against the British government. it states that it had become necessary for the American people to "dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another [people]. had resulted from the consent of the Americans' colonial legislatures. through assemblies elected in America. but specifically." whose Declaration established a single nation. or perhaps had always been.historical context one People The Declaration refers to the people of the United States of America as "one people. They did not form one people. The Declaration implies that the Americans had long been. The question of whether America was one people. the grievance must show that the king's actions violate the unalienable rights of humanity." One important example of this charge was King George's refusal to comply with various attempts by the Colonies to abolish the slave trade. defeated all attempts by the Colonies to . not plural) in line 38. or a baker's dozen of separate sovereignties." Thus. And by adding "laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. From the Declaration alone we may conclude that the several states are independent of each other in certain respects. However.

The British maintained that representation was a privilege granted by the King. he has utterly neglected to attend to them. For example. and distant from the Depository of their public Records. The colonists insisted that representation in their assemblies was their right. This refers to the policy of requiring the colonial governors or chief executives within each colony to suspend certain kinds of laws passed by the Colonial assemblies until the King should give his assent to them. nor annulling them by his negative. Virginia was also constrained by the same policy. and property are endangered when men live outside of government--in a "state of nature. and Convulsions within. In addition. This refers to situations that arose in Massachusetts and Virginia. human beings have the right to form governments to protect themselves. for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners. the representative assembly of Massachusetts issued a letter for circulation charging the King and Parliament with infringing the rights of Americans. Americans believed that one part of the unalienable right to liberty was the liberty to make use of property to provide for oneself and one's family. and raising the Conditions of new Appropriations of lands. incapable of Annihilation. The British government feared that such encouragement would reduce the population of England and lure away workers who would otherwise be employed in its domestic industries. and that they would then be justified in doing whatever they deemed necessary to reestablish representative government. for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures. so that it can be put to use by their labor. depended. HE has refused for a long time. HE has obstructed the Administration of Justice. refusing to pass others to encourage their Migration hither. unless those People would relinquish the Right of Representation in the Legislature. to cause others to be elected. In both cases." HE has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large Districts of People. uncomfortable. for opposing with manly firmness his Invasions on the rights of the People. and New York passed laws allowing for the establishment of new communities with elected representatives to their respective popular assemblies. have returned to the people at large for their exercise. This charge refers to edicts issued occasionally by the King that the representative bodies of the colonies be dissolved for various reasons. after such dissolutions. The King. which belonged solely to the King. The people understood that their right of representation arises from their equal liberty with all other human beings. This charge pertains to a situation in North Carolina that originated from an act of the English government disallowing a law passed by the North Carolina legislature for establishing courts of justice and regulating their proceedings. by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers. liberty. and Convulsions within. the legislature. all of which were disallowed by King George. Jefferson wrote in his "Summary View of the Rights of British America" (1774): "With equal inattention to the necessities of his people here has his majesty permitted our laws to lie neglected in England for years. HE has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance." In the state of nature. when the colonial governors declared that the meeting sites of the assemblies should be moved for reasons of safety. and when so suspended. This charge goes to the heart of one of the fundamental disagreements between the American colonists and the British government. When the Massachusetts House voted not to rescind the letter. the new sites were at some distance from the places where the public records were kept. neither confirming them by his assent. HE has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly. Similar situations existed in South Carolina and Pennsylvania. the Governor ordered it dissolved. HE has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual. North Carolina was compelled to do without courts of law for a long time. theState remaining in the mean time exposed to all the Dangers of Invasion from without. but originated with the people. After this letter had come to the attention of the British government. These were all violations of the principle that just government derives from the consent of the governed. South Carolina. in 1768. Sometimes these laws would be neglected by the King for years." recalls the Founders' understanding that life. the colonists believed that the right of self-government reverted to the people. Governor Bernard of Massachusetts was ordered to dissolve the assembly unless the letter were rescinded. Upon those occasions when their representative assemblies were dissolved. and the members of the assemblies charged that moving the sites of their meetings interfered with the public business and prevented them from access to information necessary to conduct it. New Hampshire. the King issued orders that made it more difficult to obtain land by royal grant. This charge relates to the King's opposition to various colonial laws passed for the purpose of encouraging immigration to America. That means that the right of representation in the lawmaking body. whereby the Legislative Powers. To that end. Letters were also sent to the governors of other colonies ordering them to prevail upon the members of their respective assemblies to ignore the letter. for whatever reason. HE has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States. not upon the caprice of their governors. and that government exists to . As a result.curtail or abolish it. in whatever manner they deem best. to be granted or to be withheld from others at his pleasure. unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained. government should make unused land available to the people by homestead or auction. treated all land in America as his. The reference to "Dangers of Invasion from without. that equal liberty requires that no one has the right to rule another without that other's consent. This charge refers to a grievance that arose because of the British government's fear that the popular assemblies of the colonies were growing too large and powerful as new communities were formed and additional representatives were elected to the assemblies of the colonies. even though neither he nor his officers had expended any labor upon it. If the King disbanded their legislatures. however. the people of the various colonies often formed special conventions for the purpose of passing laws and electing representatives to the Continental Congress. because government must be by consent of the governed. even to the point of calling special conventions to govern them. The English objected to this law on the grounds that the establishment of courts of justice was an action reserved to the sovereign power. a Right inestimable to them. and formidable to Tyrants only.

However. which rests upon the principle of consent. Otherwise the people's unalienable rights would be endangered. Since none of these officials were approved by the colonial legislatures. a Compensation.secure rights. Indeed. 2) The Administration of Justice Act empowered the Massachusetts governor to transfer either to Britain or to another colony for trial any official or soldier accused of a capital crime committed in the line of duty who could not expect a fair trial in Massachusetts. in Times of Peace. HE has erected a Multitude of new Offices. FOR abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province and FOR taking away our Charters. Jefferson wrote that if the King did indeed have the right to keep standing armies in the colonies during times of peace without America's consent. he has refused to exercise his veto on them. The New York legislature passed a law stipulating such tenure. In A Summary View of the Rights of British America. as governor of Massachusetts. This principle is implicit in the phrase "foreign to our Constitution. among other things. In 1774. and that town meetings could not be held without the prior written approval of the governor. and shall. Instead. 3) The Massachusetts Government Act nullified and altered the Massachusetts Charter in several ways." At the end of the Seven Years' War with France. the Quartering Act. The Founders believed that the colonists in each of the colonies had voluntarily consented to be governed by their own elected representatives. that the Council would thenceforth be appointed by the Crown rather than elected by the House of Representatives. which shall not be diminished during their continuance in Office. . There were five acts: 1) The Boston Port Act closed the port of Boston beginning June 1." and were in this sense British citizens. FOR quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us." Jefferson refers to the American understanding of the British constitution (see his Summary View). and eat out their Substance. Moreover. Accordingly. a series of punitive actions was taken against the town of Boston and the entire colony of Massachusetts Bay. shall hold their Offices during good Behavior. it sent instructions to the colonial governors forbidding them from assenting to any act passed by their legislatures pertaining to the tenure of judges. This charge refers to additional customs officials and courts of admiralty--that is. This charge should be compared with the US Constitution. in an effort to enforce trade laws and prevent smuggling. they were illegitimate. abolishing our most valuable laws. HE has kept among us. the British government decided that it was not possible to single out for punishment the participants in the Tea Party. suspending the common law of Massachusetts and ordering the use of martial law. and thus for declaring their independence. standing armies had long been regarded. this act in effect declared a military blockade of Boston. one should keep in mind the principle stated at the beginning of the Declaration. and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments These lines refer to what came to be called "The Intolerable Acts. as a danger that required the closest supervision of the people. The "others" referred to here are the members of Parliament. by his own authority. When the British government learned of this law. should control the military." In 1761 the English government declared that the tenure of judges in colonial courts should be at the discretion of the King. passed by the British government in 1765. which makes the president. That is in accordance with the principle that elected officials. "Our constitution. and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People. at stated Times. Without a judiciary to punish criminals and to enable injured individuals to sue the injurer for redress. until the East India Company had been repaid for the losses it had suffered as a result of the Tea Party. elected by the people. and unacknowledged by our Laws. HE has made Judges dependent on his Will alone. receive for their Services. giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: This line introduces a recitation of certain acts of Parliament regarded as unconstitutional exercises of authority by the Americans. This entire section rests upon a principal issue for the colonists: To what extent did the British Parliament have the authority to legislate for the American colonists? As one reads these charges. when King George gave his consent to the acts of "pretended Legislation" of Parliament. and it therefore had no authority over them. 1774. by stipulating. 1773). and the Amount and Payment of their Salaries. HE has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power. for the Tenure of their Offices. This led to a crisis in New York in that same year. HE has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution. It should be compared with Article III. liberty. commander in chief of the armed forces. "HE has combined with others" means that King George has given his assent to these acts of "pretended Legislation. not unelected appointees such as generals. in order to make government abuse of power less likely. life. in both England and America. This refers to the appointment in 1774 of General Thomas Gage. On June 12. that all legitimate political power derives from the consent of the governed. This charge refers to the need to separate the judiciary from the executive. This practice was a violation of the principle that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. Standing Armies. when the colony's judges refused to carry out their duties unless their commissions under the King were for continuance in office during good behavior. and property will be insecure." passed by Parliament partly in response to the "Boston Tea Party" (December 16. both of the supreme and inferior courts. rightfully grants authority to the colonial legislatures to make laws for their respective colonies. the colonists had not consented to be governed by the British Parliament." and that he was. commander in chief of the British troops in America. military and not civil courts--established by the British government in the colonies. he had given the colonists the justification for dissolving their allegiance to him. such a right "might swallow up all our other rights whenever he should think proper. The colonies acknowledged King George as their "chief executive. 1775. Section 1 of the United States Constitution: "The Judges. English troops were not withdrawn from the colonies. without the consent of our Legislatures." in this view." that is. General Gage declared that the colonists of Massachusetts were "rebels and traitors. made the colonies liable for supporting the troops.

to become the Executioners of their Friends and brethren. This was the heart of what the colonists objected to. HE has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country. and part of Minnesota. and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation. A particularly alarming feature of the Quebec Act was that it extended the territory of Quebec far southward. HE has plundered our Seas. already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy. any person in America. It meant that before the coercive power of government could be brought to bear against a man." The principle "no taxation without representation" was soon extended to the whole conduct of government. it was "suspended. being against law. entitled "The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved. it had to be approved by a body of men. Illinois. entrusted military courts--the courts of admiralty and vice-admiralty--with enforcing all acts of the British Parliament pertaining to commerce and related revenues. It occasioned the first strong articulation of the principles of the Declaration by James Otis in 1764. and ought to meet with resistance and reprisal. FOR imposing Taxes on us without our Consent. According to the Declaration. governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. who are not government employees. partly in an effort to suppress smuggling. and to prevent the westward expansion of the colonies by peopling the western region with docile Catholics who would willingly submit to despotic government of Britain and their priests. 5) The Quebec Act reversed previous colonial policy by depriving inhabitants of Quebec of representation in government. Not just taxes. Indiana. according to the British. Desolation. 1775. as if that people were its slaves. The British considered that the Americans were in open rebellion against their lawful rulers. and it stated with absolute clarity that in principle the British government could simply do as it pleased with the American people. Having concluded the list of complaints whereby Britain denied Americans their right of self-government. Americans regarded trial by jury as a necessary protection to the rights of individuals against the abuse of power by government. to suppress American self-government." FOR depriving us. or attempting to seize. committed within the body of a county in America. but all acts of government must be by "the consent of the governed.4) The Quartering Act authorized every colonial governor under certain conditions to lodge troops in private establishments. of the benefits of Trial by Jury. and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all Cases whatsoever." FOR suspending our own Legislatures. The Sugar Act of April 5." He has abdicated Government here. Americans charged with crime subject to trial in the military courts could also be transported far from the scene of the actual crime to stand trial. the Declaration turns to the assault of the British government on the Americans' lives. The Stamp Tax of the early 1760s was the first major cause of the quarrel between the Americans and the British. most likely his neighbors. This refers to the hiring by King George of foreign mercenary troops to fight against the colonists. and destroyed the Lives of our People. Americans could also themselves be shipped to England to stand trial for certain crimes against the King's property. Wisconsin. to include the vast region that eventually became the states of Ohio." meaning that Catholics would be taxed to support the Catholic clergy. Parliament declared that until the New York legislature complied with the law requiring such provision. Americans viewed this act as a cynical British attempt to buy the loyalty of Catholic priests so that they would not protest its abolition of republican government in Canada." This line refers in particular to a series of actions taken by George III. which is "to secure these rights. for example His Majesty's ships or other military equipment. In 1768. adopted a resolution declaring "That the seizing. for trial of offenses. It appeared that the British plan was to abolish free government within the colonies. and Tyranny. culminating in his approval on December 22. This charge quotes parliament's repeal of the stamp tax in 1766. this act also declared that the Roman Catholic religion was to be given the support of government in the exercise of its "accustomed dues and rights. But for the Americans. 1776 of an act of Parliament which declared the colonies out of the King's protection. . parliament asserted its authority to legislate for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever. FOR transporting us beyond the Seas to be tried for pretended Offenses: British policy allowed Americans to be transported to England at the desire of either prosecutor or defendant in trials of persons charged with having committed murder in the course of suppressing a riot or enforcing revenue laws. or to fall themselves by their Hands. HE is. their "lawful rulers" were the very colonial legislatures and town meetings that were declared closed by British decress and under attack by British troops. this act showed that the British government intended to act firmly. in many Cases. This charge points to the fact that King George had declared war on the Americans. contrary to the purpose of government. transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death. very likely with force. or properties. This policy was so obnoxious to the Americans that the first Continental Congress on October 21. and again on February 27. the British government. scarcely paralleled in the most bar barous Ages. by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. burnt our Towns. The British government issued this declaration because of what it viewed as the intolerable degree of unruliness of the colonists. will justify. governments may justly govern in defiance of the consent of the governed. increased the number of these courts. 1764. liberties. And. It refers specifically to the burning by British troops of several American towns. at this Time. 1774." This provision was at the root of British policy after 1765. in order to transport such person beyond the sea. The charge also refers to an act of the British Parliament in 1767 punishing the colony of New York for failing to provide for the maintenance of British troops stationed there. starting with Canada. All trials by such courts were conducted without juries. Michigan. ravaged our Coasts. although the tax was repealed.

of all Ages. despite the common usage in Jefferson's time of "man" to mean both "human being" and "male. captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere. is an undistinguished Destruction." Accordingly. he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die. tried to persuade various of the Indian tribes to attack the colonists. with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another. the use of the word "MEN. the opprobrium of infidel powers. . this charge was followed by a long passage condemning King George for having failed to suppress the slave trade to America. and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our Frontiers. or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.In December. as though they were enemies of Great Britain. for he obviously knew that both women and men were enslaved. The British had encouraged slave and Indian revolts against the colonists." written in capital letters. 1775. Parliament passed a law authorizing the British navy to capture the ships and cargoes of other countries trading with the American colonies. even though this meant that such persons would have to fight against their own countrymen." it seems reasonable to assume that he was using "men" in its generic sense. they think that Jefferson and the rest of the Founders meant to exclude women and blacks from the political equality that is one of America's founding principles. Lord Dunmore of Virginia. commander in chief of the British army in America. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold. when Jefferson refers to a "market where MEN are bought and sold." Also. the merciless Indian Savages. HE has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us. "human being". Sexes and Conditions. who wanted to continue the slave trade with Africa. whose known rule of Warfare. In addition." One should note that Jefferson states that slavery violates the "most sacred rights of human nature. thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people. For example. However. Congress struck the passage from the final version of the Declaration in deference to South Carolina and Georgia. is important. violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him. Some Americans today believe that the Declaration's assertion that "all men are created equal" applies only to males." The governors of North and South Carolina also were planning similar uprisings. is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. According to Jefferson's autobiography. and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them." and is totally unworthy of the "Christian king of Great Britain. This is the stricken passage: "He has waged cruel war against human nature itself. General Gage. swore to members of the Virginia House of Burgesses that if "any Injury or insult were offered to himself" he would "declare Freedom to the Slaves. the law authorized that anyone captured in the taking of these ships was to be compelled to fight for the British. This piratical warfare. he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us. in 1775. In Jefferson's original version of the Declaration. and reduce the City of Williamsburg to Ashes. by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them.