We Hold These Truths...
By John D. Turner
14 May 2001

Have you ever wondered how the people in politics got there in the first place? How did the candidates you vote for in the local, state, and national elections become the candidates? Who selected them? What is the party platform, and where does it come from? And finally, how can you get involved, or perhaps even more importantly, why would you even want to? These and many more questions will be answered in upcoming columns. Suppose we take the last question first; why should you get involved?

To begin with, lets look at some of the ideas this country was founded on. There can be no greater example of these principles than the Declaration of Independence, a document that proclaimed to the world the reason and justification for our separation from Great Britain, and the foundational bedrock upon which our country was established. Jefferson, who was only 33 when he penned it considered the Declaration to be "the fundamental act of union of these States". Lincoln later described it as our "ancient faith" and the "father of all moral principle" in America. If you haven't read the Declaration lately, it is worth doing so, for it embodies the spirit of what our forefathers tried to create.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among which are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

First, note that all men are created equal. That means you, me, the mayor, the governer, and the President of the United States. All are created equal, and what's more, all are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Rights that cannot be taken away by government law or decree, for they are not the government's to give or take; rights which you were born with, which were gifts or endowments from God. These rights are to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Note that it doesn't say you have a right to happiness, just that you have a right to pursue it. There is no guarantee you will be happy, but the government is not empowered to stop you from trying.

Next, note that Governments are set up for the purpose of securing these rights, and that they get their just power from the consent of the governed. This means that we agree. In a just Government, the people give their permission for the Government to exercise what ever power the people grant it. This implies that if a government should take upon itself to exercise power not granted to it by the people, then it becomes an unjust Government, not representative of the will of the People, regardless of what form that Government takes. Indeed, the Declaration goes on to say that whenever any form of Government fails this test of justness, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and to establish new Government.

So how does this apply to you and me here and now. Wasn't the Declaration just a piece of paper written by some dead white guys to justify their insurrection against the British crown two hundred and twenty five years ago? What does this have to do with me now? Well, are you satisfied with the direction your government is taking today?

Do you approve of the Government taking upon itself powers not specified in the Constitution? Do you agree that its ok for regulatory agencies to be set up that can establish rules you must comply with upon pain of fines and jail time, even though your duly elected representatives had no say in their drafting and implementation? Do you think it is OK for the government to take an ever increasing share of your hard-earned income and spend it on such things as hummingbird mating habit studies, K-12 sex education classes (with content so graphic that it was not even allowed to be displayed before an adult audience at a hearing before the state legislature), or pictures of Jesus Christ suspended in jars of urine? The list goes on and on.

If you do approve, read no further. If you think our Government is ok just the way it is, that our leaders and laws are just and moral, and that all is well in Zion, then relax. Just kick back and enjoy the latest sitcom. (But make sure your kids aren't in the room, because there is no telling what they will see or hear.) If you don't approve, then it is up to you, and others like you to do something about it. The Declaration says it is the "Right of the people to alter or abolish" unjust Government. Strong words. The signer's fought a revolution to accomplish the establishment of a Government based on these principles. Fortunately, they set it up so that we don't have to do anything so drastic to ensure that it remains a just Government. But it does require that we do something. It requires that we get involved. It is too important a task to leave up to others. Remember, all that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. The corollary of the government getting its power from the People, is that the People have to make sure the government stays within its bounds, for if they don't then they may find themselves back in the situation the signer's faced, with armed insurrection the only recourse to tyranny.

Fortunately, we have in this country a method of peacefully achieving revolution without firing a shot. It's called the ballot box. Every two years we can completely turn over the entire House of Representatives, should we choose to do so, as well as one third of the Senate. Every four years we can choose a new President. This method only works however in so far as it is properly exercised by the citizens of the nation; if we fall down on the job and allow things to get out of control, we may find it extremely difficult to get the genie of government back into the bottle. It is up to us as responsible citizens to keep an eye on things, and prune when required. It may not always be a pleasant task, and there are many other things we would probably rather be doing, but our freedom and the freedom of our children is too precious a thing to leave up to the whims of others.

Those of us who, like myself, are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, believe that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are inspired documents penned by inspired men. It may surprise some in the Church to learn that this belief is shared by many of other faiths outside the Church as well. As inspired writings, we should consider their worth to be greater than some moldy old documents written by some dead white guys. The founders had their faults, and times have changed, but the ideals set forth in the Declaration are timeless, and apply to all, whether your ancestors came here on the Mayflower or on a slave ship; whether your family has been here for hundreds of years, or whether you arrived just yesterday.