The US Declaration of Independence expresses the mindset which gave rise to the US Revolution of 1776. To set the stage for analysis, let’s begin with the words at the heart of the document. Then we will break this down into segments to analyze the foundational premises of the words as a means of exposing contrasts with a society such as ours attuned to the precepts of popular sovereignty:
“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.”
The first segment declares the perceived nature of truth: “We hold these truths to be self- evident.” These are not the truths of popular sovereignty, which derives truth through a process of give and take in societal interchange where the views of the strongest personalities prevail. Rather, the declaration addresses “self-evident” truth.
The next phrase brings the source of truth into focus: “that all men are created (not evolved) equal.” To be created assumes a Creator. This is the polar opposite of popular sovereignty where equality stems from where one is positioned in society.
Then comes “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”. To be endowed is to receive a gift—witness God gifting His only begotten Son to humanity. Similarly, for rights to be unalienable assumes truth as absolute, as in our absolutely good God. Under popular sovereignty rights cannot be unalienable because they are subject to the constant whims of societal change.
The declaration then gives examples of unalienable rights: “among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Life, in the proper Biblical context, is eternal life, Liberty is freedom from an earthly disposition and pursuit of Happiness in proper context equates happiness with attunement to God’s will.
Next comes the practical keys to aligning political theology to political institutions: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men.” This assumes a government reflecting the God-given premises already set. Fundamental is the Bible premise that man’s nature is beset with tendencies toward evil. Hence, as James Madison confirmed in the Federalist Papers, checks and balances in our government reflect an attempt to force compromise and consensus among less than perfect humanity.
Then the final and critical point: “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This presupposes a society whose political culture is based on the same rational principles as evidenced in the Declaration of Independence. How, then, can a society premised on the sovereignty of man over God properly affirm political legitimacy to a government premised on the sovereignty of God over man?
Popular Sovereignty implies that the heart of man is good and that a people should do whatever their hearts desire, as their guide. This was the premise of the French Revolution of 1789 which birthed chaos, mass bloodshed and finally the Empire of the dictator Napoleon. What then does the disconnect between the premises and practices of our society and the sacrosanct goals of our society expressed in the Declaration of Independence say to us?