The View From 1776

§ American Traditions

§ People and Ideas

§ Decline of Western Civilization: a Snapshot

§ Books to Read


Liberal_Jihad_Cover.jpg Forward USA

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Teddy Kennedy, Historian

At the recent Democratic National Convention Senator Ted Kennedy followed the lead of other socialist commentators in completely misrepresenting the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. 

But what else should we expect from liberal-socialists who are dedicated to eradicating every vestige of the original Constitutional foundation of the United States?

In his major address to the delegates at the Democratic Convention in Boston, Senator Ted Kennedy attacked the Bush administration for what Al Gore graphically called “dragging America’s good name through the mud.”  This a way of saying that, if France, Russia, and Germany don’t approve our foreign policy, then it’s invalid, if not illegitimate.

Senator Kennedy used one phrase from the Declaration of Independence that got some traction several months ago when critics first used it.  The phrase was “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind,” which Senator Kennedy and his socialist confreres take to mean that the United States must not offend other nations by unilateral foreign policy.

This socialistic interpretation is completely inaccurate.

The paradoxical aspect is that Thomas Jefferson employed it in the Declaration of Independence to justify unilateral action by the American colonies, action that was vigorously contested by England, the mightiest nation in the world at the time.  That is, the use of the phrase in the Declaration was exactly the opposite of what socialists in the Democratic Party intend it to mean today.

What then was Jefferson talking about?

First, his audience was not liberals’ mythical “community of nations” or “world opinion.”  The only audience for the Declaration of Independence was George III and members of Parliament.  The Declaration invoked England’s own struggle over the preceding 700 years to curb the arbitrary power of kings and to put the power of the purse strings exclusively in Parliament, an assembly representing the whole nation.  The Declaration thus amplifies the slogan, “No taxation without representation,” the fundamental cause for the War of Independence.

Second, a substantial part of the Whig party in England, particularly Edmund Burke, had actively supported the colonists’ many pleas delivered to Parliament before the final break.  Thus the Declaration is appealing to them.

Third, the Declaration of Independence is deliberately cast in exactly the same format as Parliament’s 1628 Petition of Right addressed to Charles I, and to the 1689 English Bill of Rights enacted after the bloodless ouster of James II.  Those two documents, along with the 1215 Magna Carta are the fundamental elements of the British constitution.  Both the 1628 and the 1689 documents prominently assert that the king had arbitrarily levied taxes and confiscated private property without the consent of the taxed.  This, of course, is exactly what our 1776 Declaration asserts had been done to the colonists.

Thus, Jefferson’s “decent regard” is a diplomatic way of reminding the English that American colonists were asking for nothing more than what their common ancestors in England had fought for in the past.

A final point, and perhaps the most important one, is the 180 degree difference between the theory of government advocated by the Declaration and the collectivized, Big Brother welfare-state advocated by Senator Kennedy and his fellow socialists.  As Jefferson wrote after the War of Independence, the Declaration was not intended to express novel ideas or new theories of government.  It was, he wrote, an expression of the common understanding throughout the colonies.

That understanding was, as Jefferson also wrote, that the best government is that which governs the least.  Both the English and the American colonists based their governments on the natural law conception that individuals have inalienable, God-given rights to life, liberty, and private property.  Any ruler, including Parliament itself, that arbitrarily violates those rights has, in so doing, abrogated its right to rule.

What Senator Kennedy and his fellow liberal-socialists stand for is an all-powerful government that will have full regulatory control of peoples’ wealth and income and the power to redistribute private wealth, via taxing “the rich,” in accordance with their master plan for the National State.