REVOLUTIONARIES COMMITTED THE GOVERNMENT TO PROTECTING natural rights. They believed monarchical hierarchies to be incompatible with the statement on equality enshrined in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. The radical claim that human rights are innate rather than privileges granted by rulers set a fire that helped raze privileged social hierarchies in favor of representative governance. “Human nature,” as Benjamin Rush said, “is the same in all ages and countries.”1 For him and most other politicians of his generation, this meant there are inborn characteristics that are inalienable, irrespective of a person’s level of education, social and political station, or religious affiliation. The belief that everyone is entitled to fair treatment also had direct ramifications for the limits of governmental power. The Declaration of Independence rendered protection of human rights a quintessential aspect of governance, but pragmatic domestic and foreign considerations counterbalanced those ideals with policy making tradeoffs.
The influence of the Declaration on early nation building went well beyond its original purpose. A document that was first meant to announce and justify U.S. independence wound up influencing state and federal policies. The Declaration’s statements on rights and self-governance extended its significance beyond announcing nationhood. States found no difficulty reconciling the document’s passages on sovereignty with their own