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Friday, July 2, 2010

Declaration of Independence - July 4th - 234th Birthday of Truth & Freedom

Declaration of Independence
July 4
 234th Birthday  of Truth and Freedom 

God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.”” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1730)

The Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776. In this document Jefferson articulated the sentiments of the American people, in a list of grievances against the King of England in order to justify the colonies breaking free of their mother country England.

The injustices committed against the colonists listed in the Declaration of Independence prompted Richard Henry Lee of Virginia to bring a resolution to the floor of the Pennsylvania State House, June, 7, 1776.

Lee’s resolution began, “"Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

A committee was appointed to outline a statement which would explain to the world Lee's resolution, and the colonies case for independence.  In the committee made of  five members, the task fell to Thomas Jefferson who wrote the draft and consulted with two other members, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams for help in writing a “fair copy.”

Their version was submitted to the Congress who made some modifications with the final version of the Declaration of Independence adopted July 4, 1776.

The individual liberties put forth in the Declaration of Independence were expressed as “self-evident truths.”
"...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."

All men are created equal, not literally equal as we are all born with different abilities and to different stations in life, but that we must all treat each other equally. All human persons have the same natural rights endowed upon us by our Creator.

“Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin...The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights of that flow from it:  Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God's design." (CCC 1934-1935)

In Jefferson's handwritten draft, he used the word "inalienable", regarading these rights. The term was changed in the final version of the Declaration to "unalienable."  A current dictionary lists both unalienable and inalienable with the same basic definition, incapable of being given away, taken, repudiated or transferred to another.

The two terms actually have a fairly important philosophical distinction which Jefferson was likely
contemplating as he carefully drafted the Declaration.   Inalienable is defined as rights which are not capable of being surrendered or transferred without the consent of the one possessing such rights.  Unalienable, defined as rights which are incapable of being alienated, that is, sold and transferred. 

The final version makes it clear that the human rights or natural rights of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" cannot be transferred, even by those having the rights.  And that these rights are not created by government, they pre-existed as rights "endowed by their Creator" on every human person.

Today I ponder just one of these three natural rights, that of liberty or freedom. We all speak of being free and truth be told we are living in the “freest” of countries, a freedom, sadly, that I take for granted daily. What is freedom?

“The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in religious and moral matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of man. But the exercise of freedom does not entail the putative right to say or do anything.” (CCC 1747)

A common error is to confuse freedom with license. Are we free to do whatever, whenever with whomever we want? Are we morally free to do whatever we choose? No one has the moral right to do evil and the inevitable consequence of abusing freedom is losing freedom.

Live in truth and act in truth, “know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
As the founders of our nation set forth 234 years ago, we are endowed by Our Creator with the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and Happiness, let us thank God for His "Laws of Nature" and "protection of [His] Divine Providence" in guiding our freedom and never separate from Him who is “the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

Just a few things to ponder this Independence Day.

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.”” (CCC 1733, Romans 6:17)

Declaration of Independance - John Trumbull
Drafting of the Declaration of Independance - Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
Declaration of Independance - Edward Hicks

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