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The Foundation of our Independence

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Having just celebrated July 4, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it behooves us to consider the foundation upon which that document rests: a foundation that not only supports the words of Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration, but also the worldview that bound the Founding Fathers together as they pledged "[their] lives, [their] fortunes, and [their] sacred honor" for independence.

This foundation consists of God and certain ideals and fundamental principles that emanate from Him: principles like the laws of nature, and ideals like freedom, liberty, and human dignity. When we read the Declaration or hear it being read, we must understand that its words are anchored in these ideals and principles which, in turn, are anchored in the very God whom Jefferson described as "Nature's God" in the Declaration’s first sentence.

Among Jefferson's most immediate messages in the Declaration is the admission that freedom flows from God to us, and subsequently, it is something for which we have been especially endowed via the same God from whom freedom flows.

President Calvin Coolidge saw this clearly. And during a speech in Philadelphia on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration, he said, "In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document." In other words, every claim, every declaration, and every example of proper governance and natural rights contained in the Declaration are ultimately rooted in the existence and person of God.

Coolidge held that since the Declaration was reliant upon God and rooted in the "spiritual," it was therefore a meaningful document in a metaphysical sense: it was truth grounded in true-truth. He elaborated: "No one can…escape the conclusion that in the great outline of its principles the Declaration was the result of the religious teachings of the preceding period." Just a few decades after Coolidge made those comments, the renowned conservator Russell Kirk wrote words that expounded on the kinds of "religious teachings" that impacted those who framed and signed the Declaration: "The prophets of Israel, the words of Christ and His disciples, the writings of the fathers of the Church, the treatises of the Schoolmen, the discourses of the great divines of Reformation and Counter-Reformation—these are the springs of American metaphysics and morality."

It is little wonder that Samuel Adams, Founding Father and firebrand in the colonial-based Sons of Liberty, chose to explain it this way: "The people seem to recognize this resolution [a.k.a. the Declaration] as though it were a decree promulgated from heaven." We are inclined to freedom because God made us to be free. The Declaration of Independence speaks to that freedom, the order intrinsic to it, and the God from whom both flow. As we consider our independence, we do well to consider the foundation on which that independence rests as well.

Alan Sears is a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in the departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan Administration. He is president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

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