The Fourth of July, The Declaration of Independence, and Human Rights

The Fourth of July, The Declaration of Independence, and Human Rights July 4, 2019

John Trumbull: The Declaration of Independence / Wikimedia Commons

As photos reveal the deplorable state of migrants crammed into cells, as more and more migrants end up dead as they try to escape the horrors of the lands from which they come, and as exposes reveal the fundamental lack of moral character behind the majority of those charged with the border patrol, a common response, if not the most common response, to these tragedies by Trump supporters is to blame the victims of these abuses for not “obeying the laws.”  Even if it were the case that all of them were guilty of minor, petty crimes (they are not), it should horrify people that such abuse is considered justified for minor offenses: for then, other, similar offenses, should suffer similar consequences, and greater offenses, like tax evasion, should have proportionally greater penalties. Those arguing for ill-treatment of the migrants, based often on falsehoods, end up arguing for a powerful dictatorial state which would make everyone liable to grave mistreatment.

Nonetheless, this ideology which promotes the rule of law, whatever the law is, over morality and its promotion of human dignity, contends with and rejects the best principles which the founding fathers of the United States employed to justify the Declaration of Independence:

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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

The founding fathers were criminals, according to the laws of the time. When Great Britain wanted to tax them, or limit and control the guns within the colonies, instead of obeying the law, the colonists revolted.[1] They believed that there was a limit to what law could or could not enforce. Human dignity overruled the dictates of the law when the law ignored the rights of the people. While we could argue with the founding fathers what those rights entailed, the principles behind the revolution can be simply stated with the general principle, “An unjust law is no law.” When government becomes tyrannical and ignores inalienable rights, such as the right to seek asylum, or the right of migrants to move and look for a better home, the Declaration of Independence would argue that the destructive nature of that government should lead to the rejection of that government and its claims of authority. Its laws are no longer acceptable, and far from being justification for whatever inhumane treatment such governments inflict upon migrants, they are a demonstration of how the government has lost its claim to rule.

When Americans celebrate the Fourth of July, hopefully they ponder what the Declaration of Independence said about human rights and discern the way their country has been diverted from its best ideals. Instead of parades demonstrating its military might, the leaders of the United States should be getting together, recanting of the evils perpetuated in the name of the United States, and work once again to be a leader for human rights, listening to and following the ideals of the Declaration of Independence over the rules being established by would-be dictators.

[1] How many people who love their guns would willing hand them over if the law told them to do so? And yet, how many who would not do so are among those who criticize migrants seeking asylum in the United States, saying they are criminals who break the law and deserve no aid?


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