It always amazes me when otherwise intelligent people are unable to find evidence of God in our governing documents. The Declaration of Independence, the signing of which we commemorate July 4th, alone has five references to God – two in the first paragraph, one in the middle and two in the last.
It begins, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
Who is responsible for “the laws of nature” but God – certainly not man nor nature itself? From the “laws of nature” sprang an awareness of natural law, sometimes called common sense, understood by early philosophers to be a source of higher law that never changes.
This higher law was best explained by Cicero, a Roman politician, as early as the first century B. C. – even pre-dating the existence of Christianity – when he wrote: “Nor may any other law override it, nor may it be repealed as a whole or in part… Nor is it one thing at Rome and another at Athens, one thing today and another tomorrow, but one eternal and unalterable law that binds all nations forever.”
Of “nature’s God,” the second reference to deity found in the Declaration of Independence, is more explicit and needs no explanation. Nature is controlled by God.
The third reference to God is the word “creator” found in the second paragraph.
“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,” they said.
This statement boldly identified our base for at least three unalienable rights as God and the Founders identified this truth as self-evident. Any person endowed with common sense or reason would or could come to this conclusion. The phrase “that among these” indicates that these are the most important, but that there are others. Many constitutional scholars believe that the Bill of Rights is an extension of these unalienable rights from God.
So passionate were they with respect to these three “God-given rights” that such were identified as the purpose of government.
“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” it said.
Moreover, their right of revolution hinged upon the denial of these “God-given rights.”
“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,” it continued.
Of course, some measure of restraint is justified for a few missteps, which could be corrected when better understood.
“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes…” it said. But when the intent to undermine these “God-given rights,” becomes obvious, resistance is expected.
“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations… evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security,” the declaration said.
Once again, an appeal to natural law, which emanates from God, was noted, and the loss of which always justifies revolution. “It is their duty,” they said.
The fourth and fifth references to God in the Declaration of Independence are found in the last paragraph. The rightness of our cause was left to God as judge.
Here is stated, “We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in general congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown…”
The fifth and last reference to God asks for his divine protection in our revolutionary course of action, “and for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
There was no dissent noted with respect to these references to God and their placement or emphasis in this document by any of the participants then, nor should there be now. The signers of the Declaration of Independence clearly viewed God as justifying revolution from existing government in the protection of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” rights he had endowed upon man.
Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and to applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.