Rights, The Declaration of Independence, & the Louisiana School System

In this fascinating article by Tom Lindsey Is the Declaration of Independence Based on a Lie which I’ve started using in my history and government class, Lindsey brings up a rejected bill in the Louisiana State Assembly which would have required school students to recite a portion of the Declaration of Independence before school. Representative Norton, who opposed the bill, stated that the D of I was written during the time of slavery so principles such as “…all men are created equal…” was a lie and we shouldn’t make children recite such nonsense which wasn’t true since slavery was still legalized.

Lindsey does a fabulous job in illustrating why Norton’s view is sheer nonsense. Three of his critiques rest on the shoulders of some famous Americans who spoke specifically about this issue. Here’s what they said:

Martin Luther King Jr.: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Abraham Lincoln: “[The founders] meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated. . . .”

Frederick Douglas, in his critique of the Dred Scott case and the embarrassing opinion of then Chief Justice Roger Taney, said that slaves indeed were meant to benefit from the Declaration’s claim.

So the question must be asked? Who would you rather trust on the matter: Representative Norton from Louisiana or Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglas, and Abraham Lincoln?

Wow, that’s a close call. Let me think about this for a minute.

The Declaration of Independence set up a standard, a goal which the young country was striving towards; a belief that was embedded within the philosophy of the day.

Who you ask?

These former Englishmen who set out to break away from King George did so with the words and influence of a famous English philosopher ringing in their ears: John Locke.

Locke, who especially influenced Thomas Jefferson, the writer of (most of) the Declaration of Independence, spoke of Nature’s Law. The rights of humans is not bestowed on humanity by a bureaucratic government or a benevolent king. No, rights come from Nature and from God. They are not something that can be given out by attaching it to a bill and passing it in Congress. We have rights because we are human, like we have breath, given to us by our Creator, bestowed upon our nature because of who we are – human.

And while unrighteous governments can take rights away, can enslave an entire race, can segregate and separate and pick and choose as long as it has the might to do so, government can NOT alienate us from our rights. Thus the saying: “we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights …”

Each and every slave had rights given to them by God. Taken away from them by man.

This is the beauty of the Declaration of Independence. It celebrates humanity in such a powerful way, even amidst a world which was at that time (or at this time) anything but perfect.

But the ideal, the precedent, the goal to strive for was forever enshrined within our founding documents. That is, indeed, something to be celebrated. It’s something to be memorized. It’s something to be recited in our classrooms.

I hope Representative Norton will look again at our imperfect past and see the struggle we’ve all been working towards has been there right from the beginning. School kids need to know this.


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