Essay Outline For The Declaration Of Independence

A man can no more transfer his inalienable rights than he can transfer his moral agency, his ability to reason, and so forth.This means that inalienable rights could never have been transferred to government in a social contract, so no government can properly claim jurisdiction over them.

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The first part of the second paragraph, as painstakingly reconstructed by Carl Becker in 1922 (We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these ends, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government shall become destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, & to institute new government, laying it’s foundation on such principles & organizing it’s powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

We have here a brilliantly concise statement of what historians call “Real” (or “Radical”) Whig ideology, a libertarian political philosophy commonly associated with John Locke.

(“Unalienable” appears to have been more common.) Far more significant is why Jefferson felt the need to specify rights at all, rather than referring simply to natural rights, inherent rights, and so forth.

Inalienable (or unalienable) rights were regarded as fundamental corollaries of man’s nature, especially his reason and volition, so these rights could never be surrendered or transferred to another person (including a government), even with the agent’s consent.

This prompted an excited John Adams to write to his wife, Abigail: The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.According to this approach, legitimate disagreements may occur between subjects and rulers when alienable rights are involved, but no such disputes are justified over the question of inalienable rights.Government cannot claim any jurisdiction over such rights, because inalienable rights, by their very nature, could never have been transferred to government in the first place.Although this basic argument can be found in John Locke’s Locke never actually used the word “inalienable” (or “unalienable”) in regard to rights.We do find this terminology, however, in an early book by the Scottish (and Lockean) philosopher Francis Hutcheson.Jefferson gave no indication of such an outline, suggesting instead that he had written the Declaration from scratch.It was only after he had completed the “original Rough draught” that Jefferson submitted the document to Adams and Franklin separately, soliciting changes that he later described as “two or three short and verbal alterations.” But, Jefferson continued, “even this is laying more stress on mere composition than it merits, for that alone was mine.”The Rough Draft to which Jefferson refers is one of the most fascinating documents in American history. Boyd (There can scarcely be any question but that the Rough Draft is the most extraordinarily interesting document in American history….For it embodies in its text and in its multiplicity of corrections, additions, and deletions all, or almost all, of the Declaration as it was at every stage of its journey from its origin in the parlor of Graff’s home to its emergence in full glory as the official charter as the authenticated charter of liberty of the American people.For those who wish to understand the political philosophy of the Declaration, the significant part is the famous second paragraph.We thus see why Jefferson focused on inalienable rights in his effort to fasten the charge of tyranny on the British government.The violation of inalienable rights was a defining characteristic of a tyrannical government, and only against such a government is revolution justified.


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