Friday, July 4, 2008


For well over two centuries, America has celebrated that fateful event in 1776 when members of the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to adopt the final Declaration of Independence. It was however, not until 1941 that July 4 was officially declared by Congress, a federal secular holiday. John Hancock, was the first to sign the historic document with his famous and prominent signature, leading 56 men to commit an act of treason punishable by death. More than a statement against King George III of England, The Declaration of Independence is a philosophically powerful statement and declaration on the nature of man.

Greatly influenced by philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke, Thomas Jefferson created the document that held at its core the belief that human beings are basically good by nature. Rousseau’s and Locke’s sentiments that all men are born free and equal, inspired, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights.”

A product of the Age of Enlightenment, the Declaration of Independence sought to protect the rights of the individual and resoundingly renounced the divine right of kings and tyrants. It affirmed that power over government rested in the people who, through social agreement and general will, granted rank and privilege to rulers.

Rousseau’s, “Du Contrat Social, ou Principes Du Droit Politique,” affirmed that government should protect the rights, property and equality of all citizens, and not just that of a powerful few. Consistent with Rousseau’s thinking, Jefferson’s Declaration contends that the right to govern is compromised when it is abused, at which point the government loses its moral and political authority.

Baron de Montesquieu, whose “L’Ésprit des Lois” delineated the separation of powers between legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, greatly influenced America’s founding fathers, leaving a permanent imprint on the constitution. This influence of moral obligation has, since then, spread to other countries anxious for a balanced democratic model of governance that assures freedoms and rights.

As America celebrates the most significant day in its history, and one that has since 1776 influenced societies around the world, it also celebrates the revolutionary minds and philosophers of the Renaissance who so influenced and enlightened it’s own creators 232 years ago. In that celebration and its significance, America extols Rousseau’s affirmation of man’s natural tendency for, and manifestation of, compassion.


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