James Madison Summer Institute Essay #2
The Declaration of Independence refers to “our constitution”, in this respect they were referring to the Ancient British Constitution. The United States was expressing the fundamental aspects of British politics; among these were Classic Republicanism, Enlightenment Liberalism, and Protestant Christianity. In the Declaration they balanced all of these English traditions; expressing what they believed to be the true spirit of the British Constitution. As Edmund Burke would say, “(the Revolution) was carried out not to create new liberties but to preserve old ones” (Wood, p. 58). The main issue that the colonies had with the British following 1763, was England’s belief in the doctrine of Parliamentary Supremacy; a system that gave popular sovereignty to British citizens, but did not represent colonial interests. When the British began taxing the colonies they were perceived to be infringing on ancient natural right s and principle of consent by the governed. Thus, the Declaration and Revolution harkened back to the traditional values of Englishmen, and sought to reclaim British constitutional values from Parliamentary tyranny. To recover these ancient values the colonists found it vital to expressly state these rights in the Declaration and their various state constitutions.
At the time of the Declaration the Founders were first very concerned with protecting liberty. John Locke’s theory of natural right and consent would specifically woven into this document. In the Declaration of Independence it is stated that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator to certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, li...
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... was required to promote the general welfare and to maintain the law and customs of his provinces. Americans believed this covenant with the king had been broken. Jonathan Mayhew further explained by declaring “when they (kings) rob and ruin the public, instead of being guardians of its peace and welfare; they immediately cease to be the ordinance and ministers of God; and no more deserve that glorious character than common pirates and highwaymen” (A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers, Course Packet, p. 250). Thus, with his tyrannical acts the king became a despotic power who had broken his covenant with the people, or as the Declaration would state, “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people” (Declaration of Independence, Greene, p. 298).
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