The Declaration: Still The American Mind?
I suspect this July 4th holiday, the words of the Declaration of Independence seem more poignant to many Americans. They certainly do to me. Given the contentious political climate, the dismal economic outlook, and the shocking Supreme Court ruling to uphold ObamaCare, I wonder if most Americans today believe, as President Lincoln did, that the Declaration is the fullest expression of who we are as a people? Is it still “the harmonizing sentiment of the day” as Jefferson described it?
A year before his death in a letter to Henry Lee, the elder Jefferson answered a query about the Declaration of Independence. In it he explained why they wrote it:
“But with respect to our rights, and the acts of the British government contravening those rights, there was but one opinion on this side of the water . . . This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day . . .”
Two hundred thirty-six years later, does the Declaration remain the fullest expression of the American mind?