Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Continental Statement

As I did with certain quotes of Thomas Jefferson in December, I arranged the following quotes which I collected from Revolution-era American declarations of rights*, with the quotation marks erased (so that it can flow as a single, intact document on the American Revolutionary understanding of the nature of rights and justice and the purpose of government, and on what basis, with what conditions, and under what circumstances we are obligated to support it).

[* The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence does clearly and succinctly explain the nature of rights, justice, government, and law, which is why it is the heart of what I edited together, below; nevertheless, I think that the details offered by one of the drafts of the Declaration, and by the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and by many of the early state constitutions, add something of value which justifies their inclusion.]

-- A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles, and a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality are absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty, and keep a government free. That the general, great and essential principles of liberty and free Government may be recognized and unalterably established; WE declare,

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 from that equal creation, they derive in rights inherent and inalienable: certain natural rights of which men, when they form a social compact cannot deprive or divest their posterity); 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; and whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends – whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual – 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.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

The body-politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals; it is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good. The end of the institution, maintenance and administration of government is to secure the existence of the body-politic, to protect it, and to furnish the individuals who compose it, with the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, their natural rights, and the blessings of life – every free republican government, being founded on their sole authority, and organized for the great purpose of protecting their rights and liberties, and securing their independence.

It is the duty of the people, therefore, in framing a Constitution of Government, to provide for an equitable mode of making laws, as well as for an impartial interpretation and a faithful execution of them, that every man may, at all times, find his security in them. All laws, therefore, should be made for the good of the whole; and the burdens of the State ought to be fairly distributed among its citizens; all officers of government, whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants, and at all times accountable to them. Of all the various modes and forms of government, that is best which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety, and is most effectually secured against the danger of maladministration.

Every individual of the society has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property, according to standing laws. He is obliged, consequently, to contribute his share to expense of this protection; to give his personal service, or an equivalent, when necessary; but no part of the property of any individual can, with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent, or that of the representative body of the people. In fine, the people ... are not controllable by any other laws than those to which their constitutional representative body have given their consent. And whenever the public exigencies require that the property of any individual should be appropriated to public uses, he shall receive a reasonable compensation therefor.

When men enter into a state of society, they surrender up some of their natural rights to that society, in order to insure the protection of others; and without such an equivalent, the surrender is void; but the enjoyment of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are essential rights which every Government ought to respect and preserve, and they have never ceded to any sovereign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent. The doctrine of non-resistance, against arbitrary power and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.

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