Our Founding Fathers developed the simple political notion that it is “self-evident, that all men are created equal … endowed by their Creator with … unalienable Rights … “ Most of us know the rest.
They rejected oligarchical power that had existed from the time of hunter-gather tribal cultures of every continent to the marauding Germanic and Asian tribes to the royal monarchies of Europe, Asia and South America to the politburos of Russia and China and replaced it with a government “of the people.”
On July 4, 1776, our Founding Fathers understood that what they were trying to create was a work-in-progress, an experiment. It was not completed when the Declaration was signed, it was only started.
Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and other Founding Fathers would routinely refer to this new form of government, a government “deriving [its] just powers form the consent of the governed” and not the ruling class as “the Great Experiment.” This notion, this idea is the foundation of liberty.
Fifteen years later, on December 15, 1791, at the ratification of The Bill of Rights, via The Fifth Amendment Clause that “No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation,” the free market was born. Our Forefathers identified that true and unequivocal private property ownership is an unalienable right endowed to us by our Creator. They shored up the foundation of liberty and thereby invented capitalism.
No person more than Thomas Jefferson understood that it would take time for freedom and liberty to be won by everyone in America. Had his original draft of the Declaration of Independence been accepted, and in particular his clause on slavery, slavery would have ended in the thirteen colonies on the day the Declaration was signed. That clause was clear and identical to other writings of Jefferson throughout his life. It’s worth remembering and magnifies how the Great Experiment has progressed. Jefferson wrote about King George, III that –
“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s (sic) most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobium of INFIDEL Powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the LIBERTIES of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the LIVES of another.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood the promise of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and its evolvement to include all Americans. He demanded that liberty be guaranteed to all Americans when he wrote and later spoke in Washington DC on August 28, 1963, saying,
“When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men … yes black men as well as white men would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” See I HAVE A DREAM…, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Dr. King’s speech should be read, studied and discussed by every American who understands or wants to understand the foundation of our liberty, our “unalienable Right” to pursue happiness as each of us see fit and to participate in the ongoing development of The Great Experiment, the United States of America.