Harmonizing Sentiments: The Declaration of Independence and the Jeffersonian Idea of Self Government

Harmonizing Sentiments: The Declaration of Independence and the Jeffersonian Idea of Self Government

Harmonizing Sentiments: The Declaration of Independence and the Jeffersonian Idea of Self Government

Harmonizing Sentiments: The Declaration of Independence and the Jeffersonian Idea of Self Government

Synopsis

Hans L. Eicholz is a Senior Fellow at the Liberty Fund, an educational foundation based in Indiana.

Excerpt

The Declaration of Independence puts forward, in its final congressionally approved form, a list of some nineteen violations of American rights, including nine subcategories in the thirteenth charge. The list draws from the experiences of all thirteen colonies over an extended period of time. The charges against the crown ranged from the most general neglect on the part of the King in approving laws passed by colonial legislatures, to the very specific charges of raising foreign troops and inciting American Indian tribes against the colonists. These charges, when published, were attacked by loyalist writers as vague and unsubstantiated or simply dismissed as false. To properly assess the Declaration and the counterclaims of detractors, it is necessary to retrace the source of American discontent within the empire. The political perception of the American people was shaped by the course of British attempts to raise revenue from them, and it was in the unfolding of events after 1750 that Americans detected the designs of empire. That perception prompted the colonists' efforts to understand the nature of power and its relation to liberty and society, and sparked a remarkable debate among Americans between those who wanted to preserve imperial authority and those who sought to check its extension and consolidation in the colonies. Over the course of these debates, we increasingly see American resisters to British authority incorporating historical, customary, and constitutional arguments with assertions of natural law and natural rights. Their opponents, on the other hand, appear to rely almost exclusively on historical precedent and the necessity of maintaining the existing imperial hierarchy for the preservation of society.

I. The Origins of Imperial Reform

Often historians explain the Revolution as a response to the British Parliament's attempt to find tax revenue to pay for the Seven Years War . . .

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