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Declaration of Independence: a defense of citizens’ rights

Do we, as Americans, hold the 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” to be self-evident? These notions were presented by the founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence, and ideally, they are the principles that this country was built on. But are these principles still relevant in the modern age –– Can they be transferred? And if they are relevant, are they values that modern day politicians strive to adhere to and support?

The Declaration of Independence is effectively the mission statement behind the Constitution. While the Constitution outlines the structure of the government, legal proceedings and laws in the United States, the Declaration deserves more respect for outlining the purpose of creating the nation that came to be known as the United States. The Declaration answers “why” it all matters, from the founding of a nation to the rights those individual citizens should be guaranteed. The values of equality, unalienable rights and freedom certainly should be universal rights (especially because they are the principles the government was built upon), but are they actually?

As Americans, we consider ourselves privileged because we value liberty and justice for all. But our generation is beginning to question these values and ask if the government is really fulfilling its purpose in safeguarding them. You don’t have to look further than your Facebook newsfeed or what is trending on Twitter to know that questions about citizens’ rights, especially issues of equality and liberty, are being discussed.

Issues related to citizens’ rights are very real and important issues, but the answer to these conflicts is the foundation of our nation. In his book, “Thomas Jefferson: Author of America,” Christopher Hitchens writes that the preamble of the Declaration of Independence “established the concept of human rights for the first time in history, as the basis for a republic.” As Americans, we agree that these rights are the basis of our country. Therefore, it is important to make sure that we are holding the government accountable for protecting these rights.

The Declaration of Independence states, “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.” If we believe in the founding document of the United States, then we believe that it is not only our right, but our duty to hold the government accountable to “laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such for, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln cited the Declaration, not the Constitution, as the document that created “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He used the ideology of the Declaration of Independence to justify continued commitment to the Civil War and the ideals of American society, saying, “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us ... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Similarly, it is important for us as Americans to remember these principles and adhere with renewed vigor, committing to the ideals on which our country was founded upon.

Democracy is always changing and requires the attention of the citizens. Civic engagement should not be underestimated in the protection of equality, liberty and democracy. It is necessary for citizens to be committed to these ideals and make sure that government is working towards these ends.

If we believe in the United States and the principles that it was founded upon, it is necessary to question our rights as citizens and make sure that they are constantly asserted and protected, because questioning government is foundational to our nation. The Constitution is most often looked to as the premise of American law and government, yet the Declaration of Independence is the most significant explanation of America’s founding principles. It deserves notice in discussions about the future of the United States and the assertion of citizens’ rights.

Jessica Brand is a School Of Arts And Sciences senior majoring in American Studies and double minoring in political science and women’s gender studies. 

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