On the Silence of the Declaration of Independence

On the Silence of the Declaration of Independence

On the Silence of the Declaration of Independence

On the Silence of the Declaration of Independence

Excerpt

I am much mistaken if the time is not just at hand when there shall be greater need than ever in America for the most. accurate discussion of the principles of society . . . and the policy of states. ∣ John Witherspoon, April, 1775

THE American people are celebrating the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence; but are they in fact honoring the principles of that document, the principles of the American Revolution? Do they understand them? Do our statesmen?

Studies reveal that a shockingly large number of Americans do not even recognize the Declaration of Independence. Asked to comment on passages abstracted from the document, many express hostility to its fundamental principles, regarding them as subversive or suggestive of the teachings of Communism. The fact that there are so many benighted American citizens is a sorry reflection on our institutions of learning. It would be a grave error to attribute this failure of education simply to our primary and secondary schools, whose curriculums, after all, are designed by graduates of our colleges and universities: it appears that many of the learned also have an inadequate understanding of the Declaration.

Whether the American people really understand the Declaration, they do hold it in high regard. Perhaps no American document, not even the Constitution, commands so much respect. When Lincoln began the Gettysburg Address with "Four score and seven years ago," he fixed the birth of the Republic with its Declaration of Independence. And well he might. The Declaration provided the rallying call and justification of the American Revolution. Its preamble--in some cases the entire document--was adopted . . .

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