Ethics & Public Policy Center

In This Moment of Turmoil, Let the Declaration of Independence Do Its Magic Once Again

Published in The Washington Post on July 3, 2020


This weekend, we celebrate the signing of our Declaration of Independence. Its immortal words have inspired millions of people worldwide to seek their freedom, and the words can work their magic on us yet again if we let them.

The Declaration’s power comes from just a few lines: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.” The United States was thus the first nation in world history to found itself on a universal doctrine that placed human dignity and equality, separate from any religious doctrine, at its core.

It is true that these words were often honored in their breach in the nation’s early years. Black people were enslaved in much of the land and were often unable to vote, even when free. Women were denied the right to vote or own property in their name, if married, for much of the 19th century. Discrimination against religious minorities, such as Catholics and Jews, and against racial minorities such as Asians, was widespread. Native Americans were systematically pushed out of their land and largely confined to reservations against their will. It’s not surprising that these facts have led some to allege that America’s foundational principle was the supremacy of white, Protestant, property-owning men.

Click here to read the rest of this piece at the Washington Post’s website.

Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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