Eight Principles That Shook the World
by Cleon Skousen
Editor’s Forward: A Personal Testimony By Wang Jiapu
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.
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, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness …
– Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence
Contained in these famous words are the timeless principles that supersede all cultures. When I was 19 years old studying English in a Beijing library, I first stumbled across these sublime concepts, which struck something deep inside me. It caused me to redouble my efforts in English that I might come to America to learn more about the people who would believe such noble ideas.
I have since learned that America, sadly, as a whole no longer believes in these principles discovered by Thomas Jefferson. For this reason, America has experienced great moral and social decline. But the fundamental truth remains that any nation that will embrace the God of these principles will experience justice and liberty.
Jefferson served as president of the United States, first secretary of state, minister to France, governor of Virginia, and a congressman, and was an accomplished architect, scientist, farmer, book collector, patron of the arts, violinist, and horseman. Yet he wanted to be remembered for only three things: drafting the Declaration of Independence, writing and supporting the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786), and founding the University of Virginia. These three acts have this in common: They all testify to Jefferson’s life-long passion to liberate the human mind from tyranny, whether imposed by the state, church, or man’s own ignorance.
The following account describes Jefferson’s role in the great years of America’s destiny – 1775 and 1776 – when he went to Congress as a young man and wrote the draft for the Declaration of Independence. It is clearly evident that the “ancient principles,” to which Jefferson constantly alluded, were derived purely from the Bible.
- Wang Jiapu
A Chinese student in the U.S.
It is doubtful that any of the Founders could have brought to this assignment a more profound and comprehensive training in history and political philosophy than jefferson. Even by modern standards, the depth and breadth of his education are astonishing.
He had begun the study of Latin, Greek, and French at the age of nine. At the age of sixteen he had entered the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg as an advanced student. At the age of nineteen he had graduated and immediately commenced five years of intensive study with George Wythe, the first law professor in America. During this period he often studied twelve to fourteen hours per day. When he was examined for the bar he seemed to know more than the men who were giving him the examination.
By the time Jefferson had reached early adulthood, he had gained proficiency in five languages. He had studied the Greek and Roman classics. He had studied European and English history. He had carefully studied both the Old and New Testaments.
While studying the history of ancient Israel, Jefferson made a significant discovery. He saw that at one time the Israelites had practiced the earliest and most efficient form of representative government. As long as the Israelites followed their fixed pattern of constitutional principles, they flourished. When they drifted from it, disaster overtook them. Jefferson thereafter referred to this constitutional pattern as the “ancient principles.”
Writing the Declaration of Independence
For seventeen days Jefferson composed and revised his rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. The major portion of the Declaration is taken up with a long series of charges against King George III. However, these were nearly all copied from Jefferson’s drafts of the Virginia Constitution and his Summary View of the Rights of British America. To copy these charges into the Declaration would not have taken him more than a single day. What was he doing the other sixteen days?
It appears that he spent most of the remaining time trying to structure into the first two paragraphs at least eight of the “ancient principles” that he had come to admire:
1. Sound government should be based on self-evident truths. These truths should be so obvious, so rational, and so morally sound that their authenticity is beyond reasonable dispute.
2. The equal station of mankind here on earth is a cosmic reality, an obvious and inherent aspect of the law of nature and of nature’s God.
3. This presupposes (as a self-evident truth) that the Creator made human beings equal in their rights, equal in his sight. (Of course, individual attributes and personal circumstances in life vary widely.)
4. These rights, which have been bestowed by the Creator on each individual, are unalienable; that is, they cannot be taken away or violated without the offender coming under the judgment and wrath of the Creator. A person may have other rights, such as those that have been created as a “vested” right by statute, but vested rights are not unalienable. They can be altered or eliminated at any time.
5. Among the most important of the unalienable rights are the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to pursue whatever course of life a person may desire in search of happiness, so long as it does not invade the inherent rights of others.
6. The most basic reason for a community or a nation to set up a system of government is to assure its inhabitants that the rights of the people shall be protected and preserved.
7. And because this is so, it follows that no office or agency of government has any right to exist except with the consent of the people or their representatives.
8. It also follows that if a government either by malfeasance or neglect, fails to protect those rights – or, even worse, if the government itself begins to violate those rights – then it is the right and duty of the people to regain control of their affairs and set up a form of government that will serve the people better.
On July 2, 1776, the Congress assembled as an informal “Committee of the Whole” to freely discuss Jefferson’s Manifesto of Freedom. A number of changes were suggested and debated. It was the evening of July 4 when the Congress as an official body finally approved Jefferson’s somewhat modified document. There were over sixty changes but not one of the “ancient principles” was deleted.
Reprinted from The Making of America, by Cleon Skousen, pp. 24-39, available through the National Center for Constitutional Studies, H.C. 61 Box 1056, Malta, Idaho 83342. Used with permission.