- Published: 08 January 2012
A Definite, Unique, American Philosophy of Government Does Exist--Composed of a Set of Specific, Fundamental, Traditional Principles
When the Declaration of Independencewas proclaimed in 1776, and the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted in 1787-1788, the American people and their leaders firmly believed in, and acted upon the basis of, a definite set of principles--ideas made American principles by being applied governmentally. Some of them were stated in the following words of the Declaration:
"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, 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." (Text exactly per the original.)
There are those who deny and deplore the idea that there exists a definite group, or set, of fundamental principles--uniquely American as a whole--which constitute the traditional American philosophy of government. Yet there are voluminous historical records which amply prove their existence and definition, the chief source in brief form being this 1776 Declaration--especially the profound sentences quoted above. It was with the gift of foresight--anticipating those in the future who would scoff at the above-mentioned idea and seek to belittle the sincerity and ideals of the generation of Americans of the Revolutionary period--that the town-meeting of Braintree, Massachusetts, adopted on October 14, 1765, a set of "Instructions," drafted by John Adams, to their representatives in the legislature of Massachusetts regarding opposition to the Stamp Act, stating in part as follows:
"We further recommend the most clear and explicit assertion and vindication of our rights and liberties to be entered on the public records, that the world may know, in the present and all future generations, that we have a clear knowledge and a just sense of them, and, with submission to Divine Providence, that we never can be slaves . . ."
This indicates what Adams meant when he stated long afterward (letter to Jefferson, 1815) that: "The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington."
The above-quoted statement in the Declaration of Independence, of high-minded principles and idealistic goals, is unsurpassed in all the world's writings about Mankind's tortuous struggle throughout history toward the ever-beckoning Light of Individual Liberty. This statement sought to express succinctly the essence of the philosophical basis of the reconciliation of Man's longing for Individual Liberty with the inescapable need for an orderly society, through Government, in order that Man's Liberty may exist. This contemplates the existence of Government adequate for the people's prescribed purposes, for the nation's security and sound functioning, but limited in power so as to make and keep their liberties secure against abuse, or usurpation, of power by public officials as public trustees.
The successful reconciliation of this longing for Individual Liberty with this need for Government makes possible the desired result: Man's Liberty against Government-over-Man. This means Freedom of Man from Government-over-Man. This goal and ideal proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 were later translated into governmental reality through adoption of the United States Constitution in 1787-1788, which accomplished this reconciliation in a degree never before attained by any people in all human history. This successful application in the Constitution of the principles of the Declaration was the subject of comment by James Wilson in the Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention. After reading to the members the first few sentences of the Declaration, including those quoted above, he noted their relationship to the constitutional system:
"This is the broad basis on which our independence was placed: on the same certain and solid foundation this system is erected."
This relationship of the Constitution to the Declaration was also commented on in his April 30, 1839 "Jubilee" address by former President John Quincy Adams.
This relationship--this successful application in the Constitution of the Declaration's principles--is a major factor supporting the soundness of the conclusion that a definite, unique, American philosophy of government does exist--composed of a set of specific, fundamental, traditional principles. The governmental realities, created by the constitutional system, gave substance to these principles.