The Declaration of Independence is one of the foundation documents of our nation. It is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the law of the land. It is not, but it is a legal document of vital importance to our history and laws. Every American should know and understand it. I have spent a good deal of time studying it this year, and thought I might set down some of what I have learned.
It might be worthwhile to consider briefly the worldviews of the signers. The claim is frequently made that most of the signers were Deists, not Christians. This is a distortion of the truth. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration, 52 were notable Christians. Of those, eleven were sons of pastors or priests, four attended seminary, and four were pastors or priests themselves. Of the remaining signers, two were deists (Franklin and Jefferson) and two were Unitarians (Adams and Paine). The truth, then, is that the majority of the signers were Christians in the traditional sense. Though the Declaration applies to all Americans, it is best understood in the context of Christianity for reasons that will be expounded later.
Now for the Declaration itself. Read the first sentence carefully:
“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the Earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
It seems straightforward enough. When a group of people finds that the time has come to declare their independence from another group and rise to the level of an independent nation, they should have good reasons for doing so and be willing to announce them to the world. So far, so good, but there are a number of important assumptions built in. Enumerating all of them would be tedious and beyond the scope of this post, so I will address some of the most obvious and important.
First and foremost, there is a God. Second, there is a hierarchy concerning this God. Nature is subordinate to God and it follows that, as man is part of nature, man also is subordinate to God. Third, there are laws to which man is subordinate, but which he did not author; the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Fourth, these laws grant equality to all of mankind and entitle people to rise to the level of independent nations. Fifth, the opinions of mankind are important and deserving of a certain level of respect. So much so that any people who seek to declare their independence and become a separate nation should be willing to publicly declare the reasons for doing so.
The next post will explore these assumptions in more detail.
 The Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, 1848