Today, as we celebrate the 4th of July, a growing number of Americans can no longer even remember why we celebrate the 4th of July as Independence Day — and for those who do remember the Declaration of Independence, even fewer Americans actually understand the history, ideology, and philosophy behind America’s great appeal to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
More than just a list of positive (legal) grievances, the Declaration of Independence set forward to the world not just the foundation for the Colonist’s natural rights — but the natural rights of all mankind. It was a condensed statement of principle and humanity within the evolved social thought of the Colonies taken from the European Enlightenment. It was bold, imaginative, assertive, definitive, and clear.
For today’s Liberty Library suggestion we suggest reading Carl L. Becker’s book The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas. First published in 1922, there are a staggering few books that are so concisely written on the textual and philosophical history of the Declaration of Independence, and Becker’s book — a relatively short primer — is generally considered the bedrock and thought on the subject.
In the book, Becker offers a brief contextual history surrounding the Declaration itself, as he brings up the long forgotten fact that the real resolution of separation from England was actually submitted by Richard Henry Lee (of the Virginia Delegation) on June 7, 1776, and was voted on by the Continental Convention on July 2, 1776 (the actual day of independence). “Strictly speaking,” Becker unfolds, “[Lee’s resolution] was the official declaration of independence; and if we were a nation of anti-quaries we should no doubt find an incongruity in celebrating the anniversary of our independence on the 4th of July.”
Becker continues through the subsequent chapters to unfold the historical evolution of philosophical thought surrounding natural rights, the British theory of governance and empire, comparisons of the multiple drafts of the text itself, he literary qualities of the Declaration, and of the philosophical changes and adaptations the United States made on and from the Declaration of Independence throughout the 19th Century.
Speaking of Becker’s treatment of the early American understanding of natural rights, very few authors so easily capture the complexity and evolution of thought as Becker does. Even if you do not have a background in natural law theory, Becker easily explains the importance of this theory within the Declaration for even the most casual layman.
Order this for your Liberty Library. It will add a great foundation for understanding and observance of Insurrection Day!