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Posts Tagged ‘The Declaration of Independence’

 

In a rented room not far from the State House in Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson found himself surrounded with books and pamphlets as resources for a daunting assignment: to compose the first draft of a Declaration of Independence.

The others on the five-person committee had convinced Jefferson he was the best choice for the task. He had few enemies in the Continental Congress and was already known as an excellent penman, having drafted the Virginia Constitution.

Among Jefferson’s resources was the pamphlet, Vindication of the Government of New England Churches by Rev. John Wise. Originally published in 1717, it was reprinted in 1772 for its persuasive arguments backing the cause of liberty from British tyranny.*

Now why would New England churches have needed to defend themselves?

As early as 1687, the Anglican Church of England sought to extract tax revenue from the colonial churches. John Wise was the Congregational pastor of Ipswich, Massachusetts at the time. In a sermon he used scripture to assert that taxation without representation was tyranny. He also led the revolt against the Royal Governor, Sir Edmond Andros, in response to the tax levy.

Wise and other leaders were heavily fined and briefly imprisoned. But a group of Massachusetts citizens conducted a lawful “citizens’ arrest” of the governor and sent him back to England. As a result of their effort to be free from oppression, Ipswich became known as “The Birthplace of American Independence.”

 

 

John Wise’s experience with unlawful taxation and his persuasive arguments against tyranny made his work a likely resource as Thomas Jefferson prepared to draft the Declaration.

But where did John Wise obtain those compelling arguments? Surely they came from the Bible.

For example, Wise wrote: “Every man must be acknowledged equal to every man.”

Thomas Jefferson similarly wrote, “All men are created equal.”

 

 

That principle is found in Malachi 2:10.  “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?”

Another example of Wise’s influence includes: “The end of all good government is to cultivate humanity and promote the happiness of all, and the good of every man in all his rights, his life, liberty, estate, honor, etc., without injury or abuse done to any.”

Sound familiar?

In the Declaration we read, “All men…are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

“Inalienable rights” are those God bestowed when he created humankind. Because they are from God himself, governments do not have the prerogative to take them away. Examples are found within our Bill of Rights. Others include: to earn a living and keep the profits of our labor, to move freely within the country or leave the country, and to live secure in our homes.

Such rights should be respected by all, because each of us was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  He is our Heavenly Father, who loves each of us passionately (Jeremiah 31:3) and desires we act justly toward one another (Micah 6:8).

 

 

What parent doesn’t desire that siblings live happily and peacefully together?

But“Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” for all are only possible if we follow Jesus’ teaching of the Golden Rule: “In everything do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

Finally, one more example from John Wise:  “Only by the voluntary consent of individuals can a government have authority, since it must be delegated from the individual.”

Jefferson included similar reasoning in the Declaration. “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Even kings are under the law of God, not above it. They have no right to arbitrarily make laws and decrees that benefit them but are unjust to the governed. Again, scripture makes such truth clear:

 

 

(“Woe to those who make unjust laws,

to those who issue oppressive decrees,

to deprive the poor of their rights

and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,

making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”

–Isaiah 10:1-2 NIV)

 

With such inspiration from John Wise and others, Jefferson picked up his pen and began to write:

 

 

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

 

Indeed, the truths espoused by the Declaration of Independence are based on absolutes, ordained by our Creator God for our best welfare–as individuals, communities, and nations.

 

Lord, help each of us live out these self-evident truths.

________________________________

 

*One of the committee members, John Adams, wrote in a letter to his friend, Timothy Pickering, in 1822:  “There is not an idea in it [the Declaration] but what had been hackneyed in Congress for two years before…Indeed, the essence of it is contained in a pamphlet, voted and printed by the town of Boston before the first Congress met.”  According to Dr. Paul Jehle, Executive Director of the Plymouth Foundation, that pamphlet was Pastor Wise’s Vindication of the Government of New England Churches.  (“The Origen of the Declaration,” http://www.plymrock.org).

 

Resources:

 

Art & photo credits:  www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.godswordimages.com; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.ushistory.org.

 

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