While many people may argue over the validity and importance of The Declaration of Independence most people would have to agree that without the civic creed summarized in the opening of the Declaration, the United States would not exist as a free country. The Declaration gives clear reasons for which the War of Independence was fought and expresses the motivation that enabled that war to be won. Since the day the Declaration was signed, it has been an indispensable foundation for a series of important struggles for justice in America, including, of course, the abolition of slavery. Most historical experts feel that without the Declaration of Independence many important struggles and advancements in American civil liberties would not have been fought for and won.
Many people may ask-How can a single document be so decisive in the practical affairs of an entire society? This really shouldn’t surprise us as history shows us that while crude wielders of power and other tyrants may think otherwise, ideas are far from impotent and useless in the struggles of life. Ideas, and the words that express them, are actually the dominant force in shaping the destiny of all human beings.
Ideas and their expression have always been the catalyst of change; otherwise we would be left to wonder how uncountable masses of people can be held enthralled by handfuls of people through most of history and in most places in the world. It was not, typically, by the use of overwhelming force but rather by the expression of new and at the time, radical ideas. The minority of free thinkers have never had enough force to overwhelm the masses. The victors can only succeed when they win the minds and spirits of those subject to them. This is never truer than with The Declaration of Independence. This document recognizes the crucial insight into the real source of enslavement, that slavery is not a matter of physical shackles, but of spiritual, mental and psychological chains.
It is crucial that we keep this powerful insight in mind. Only if this precept is kept fresh can we prevent human beings from being enslaved once more, because just as the power of the enslaver is not chiefly physical, so must the defense of liberty be much more than just physical. The chains of slavery can always be decisively broken wherever individual human beings realize that they are free by right, regardless of their physical condition. It becomes impossible to enslave a man if he believes and understands that he is not. The would-be masters of the world will invoke many implicit arguments against those they would subdue on the differences of status, background, wealth, education, race and strength. But none of this will convince a man that he is a slave once he understands that he possesses a dignity that does not depend on the power and opinion of other human beings. This is what The Declaration of Independence did for every American then and now.
The insight into human dignity that the Declaration of Independence has shows the only true effective motivation for the downtrodden to fight for their liberty. A people who are aware of the justice of its claims to liberty will find the courage do what is necessary no matter how large the threat. The Declaration of Independence is not merely humble imagination; it is a statement of the actual course of American history. Every significant struggle for justice in America, from the very beginning of its history, including the fights against slavery, for civil rights, for women’s rights and for workers’ rights, was led by people who pointed to the Declaration of Independence and challenged the nation to do what was right by those principles. The Declaration of Independence has been the source of the courage that was required to fight those battles and it will continue to do so by those who will always love freedom.