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  • Morning Bell: Celebrating America's Enduring Principles

    America was born on July 4, 1776, with the passage of the Declaration of Independence. Today, as we celebrate our great country 235 years later, we reflect upon its meaning.

    The Declaration announced to the world that the American colonies were free and independent states. But this alone does not make the document or America revolutionary. What is revolutionary about the Declaration is not that a particular group of Americans declared their independence under particular circumstances but that they did so by appealing to a universal standard of justice: equality. What is revolutionary about America is that it is built upon a foundation of universal principles, not petty interests.

    This is the core of American exceptionalism. As Matthew Spalding explains:

    America is an exceptional nation, but not because of what it has achieved or accomplished. America is exceptional because, unlike any other nation, it is dedicated to the principles of human liberty, grounded on the truths that all men are created equal and endowed with equal rights.

    All countries celebrate something that is theirs: The French celebrate Bastille Day, Canada has Canada Day, and Spain honors Christopher Columbus. But only America celebrates a set of principles that apply to all men.

    The Declaration of Independence serves as a philosophical statement of America’s first principles. Just read the second paragraph. It affirms that all men are equal by nature and therefore have certain inalienable rights. Government is not in the business of granting rights, making everyone alike, or ensuring that everyone is happy. Operating by the consent of the governed, government has as its purpose to secure liberty and allow individuals to govern themselves and pursue their ambitions.

    It is not uncommon to hear that these principles were fine for the 18th century but are woefully inadequate to meet the challenges of today. Just recently, in Time magazine’s cover story on the Constitution, editor Richard Stengel dismissed the Founders for being trapped in their own time and unable to speak to modern problems. Stengel’s allegations are nothing new. Since the early 20th century, academics, journalists, and even American Presidents (Woodrow Wilson, for example) have held the view, characterized by Calvin Coolidge, that “we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the [Founders], and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern.”

    There is a finality to America’s principles, though. As one President insightfully explained:

    If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions.

    Today, read the Declaration of Independence to your family, neighbors, and friends at your barbecue. Allow its memorable phrases to inspire you to strive for liberty and to vindicate the principles of self-government. Brace yourself, though—the Declaration of Independence is revolutionary, because its principles are true.

    Quick Hits:

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    45 Responses to Morning Bell: Celebrating America's Enduring Principles

    1. Stephen L Sweeney says:

      Please clarify your fifth para statement Re Calvin Cooledge's characterization of "changes…'. Thx-Steve

      • Mike Crane says:

        Great pick up, Julia really misused Calvin Coolidge's remarks. If she would have read the next line…she would have clearly seen his point…"but that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter" He goes on to emphasize the finality of the great foundations of our declaration..we do hold these truths to be self-evident! Just goes to show, you can take anything out of context…did not expect this from Heritage though. Tighten up crew!

        • Mike Crane says:

          In rereading (4 times) and following her link, I see Julia has Coolidge right on. My mistake. Might have been more clear if written differently (…as characterized in his speech in defense of the DOI)…sorry for drawing the wrong conclusion. Keep up the Great work Heritage!

    2. Ray Reed says:

      President Calvin Coolidge Speech on the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence included this very prescient section:

      "About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers."

      The full text of the speech is available here: http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index….

      (H/T The Powerline Blog)

    3. Stephen L Sweeney says:

      OOPS, Changes should have been 'new thoughts…'

    4. Skip Doyle says:

      Still outstanding to this day!

    5. jonathan byrne says:

      Have received the morning bell for about 2 to 3 months now. This is the first one I have had time to read, glad I did. Mr. Spalding puts into words how I feel. His passage is now in my wallet and I can now better explain to my children what makes America besides the people. Thank you,

    6. Victor Barney says:

      It also is written that you were cursed when you came in and you'll be cursed when you go out, meaning that we will go out, but as Marxist(Anti-Christ by definition), although we did come in a pagans! No? Watch! Eve's first sin actually was her "intellectualizing" and it is exactly how we're going to go down, as it also is written! Watch! Next comes the two-witnesses of chapter 11, Revelation to severely punish u.s. for 3 1/2 years! Again, watch!

    7. Frank says:

      Even today, on the eve of a possible financial collapse, if America would only return to its Founding Principles as found in the Declaration of Independence & a limited Constitutional Federal Government, we could not only survive this financial crises… but flourish! Sadly, we have not yet returned to those basic Founding Principles & documents. We continue to gut our once great Republican form of government as we head towards a Mobocracy (51% of people voting Democratically to confiscate the wealth of the other 49%… and our politicians not only letting them get away with it, but encouraging them)! When the Mobocracy inevitably fails economically, a "ruling elite" (corrupt, greedy central bankers, politicians, intellectuals & big business owners/controllers) will offer the masses a "solution" to the financial mess leading towards a One World Order & One World Currency. Our Constitution as Supreme Law of the Land will be gone, our freedoms will be exchanged for some sort of fake "security & stability" where we will find ourselves as serfs to a One World ruling Oligarchy with little chance of breaking out of our serfdom.

      Today, the choice is still ours for the average American voter. But we must wake up soon. The average American voter has been dumbed-down & lied to so often, they no longer know where the truth is… and our time is running out before disaster strikes & we are offered a nice sounding false hope in exchange for what our Founding Fathers tried so had to insure we keep.

    8. Ken Jarvis - Vegas says:

      7-4-11 – LVKen7@Gmail.com
      HF, WSJ, FOX and the rest of Murdochs Empire
      are the VOICE of the GOP, and as such, are DEDICATED TO – NOT HELPING FIX AMERICA.
      They are the Enemy. The GOP ONLY care for the RICH,
      and the NOT-Rich Gop'ers are being Used.
      THEY are the ones that want to – Take Away OUR Freedom.
      WE must NOT let this happen.

    9. Lacey says:

      Keep an eye on Southern Somalia, that is the "Base" of Al Queda, has always been there, we must not trust Kenya.
      Food, machinery, guns, medicines, are coming into the "Base" from both Mombasa, and Nairobi, Kenya, the richest country the region.
      Goods coming in to Mombasa, Kenya port, are sorted out so much of what Al Queda needs is being sent up the coast in smaller boats to the dock/port at Chisamyo, Somalia!
      Remember the ship that the two Somalians were shot at sea, that ship went on to Mombasa, where U.S. Aid (food) was sent up to Al Queda, plus other goods the bad guy's needs to kill Americans!
      I believe that Bill Clinton pulling out of Mogadishu in 95, "Blackhawk Down" is where the Al Queda got the idea America was week, that's when all the bombing's started, the USS Cole, etc.
      If Bill Clinton would have stayed the course in Somalia, we could have nipped (Al Queda) it in the bud!
      Like all Liberals, they sing, and dance, to peace, but never perform for Freedom for all!
      God Bless America, and happy Forth of July to all!

    10. Dick says:

      Unfortunately, governments also draw un-just powers – without the consent of the governed.

    11. Dr Barry says:

      I grew up amazed by the constitution as it was framed and amended. I regret that Senators are now elected which was an undermining of the careful balance achieved by the states' delegation.

      I have canceled my waiting room subscription to Time magazine.

    12. Clearhead says:

      Praise God from whom ALL blessings flow! Praise Him and thank Him for our great and beautiful country. Declare to Him that we will always protect, defend, yes, and FIGHT for the preservation of this magnificent blessing He has bestowed upon us. AND MEAN WHAT YOU DECLARE !!!

    13. DPT says:

      While I wasn't there at the time, I understood it was PASSED on July 2nd, was consigned to parchment thereafter, and signed on the 4th. Either day was a very good day.

    14. Spiritof76 says:

      It was a great beginning in 1776 indeed. The nation founded on liberty requires virtuous people to perpetuate it. Personal freedom and personal responsibility are inseparable twins. Alas, we have lost most of those virtues. Look at the entitlements today. Our Founders would have been ashamed to live off someone else's property through force of government. So, freedom begins with each person. Washington, DC is just a byproduct of the greed of people. As we are having a debate about our debt limit, look at how many are willing to keep raising it recklessly subjecting their children and grandchildren to future servitude. Isn't that the ultimate expression of greed?
      The trouble is we have too many people like Stengle and the Time Magazine. They don't think of the Marxist philosophy that has failed everywhere as outdated. We have too many communists and socialists in positions of power and influence today in America. The dual combination of personal greed and the communists in power has left those of us that cherish real freedom as implied in the Declaration of Independence with very little hope of recovering freedom in America.

    15. Robert says:

      The 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence had more guts, more courage and more fortitude than all of Congress. The signers risked everything for a belief and a principle. Today's spineless congressmen elect a Speaker they KNOW will do nothing, and they hide behind his facade. Washington is controlled by a few investment banks, a few pharmaceutical companies, and a few hedge funds. Over 1/3 of our population is dependent on welfare programs and our combined government chews up 43% of our economy (GDP). Those are NOT enduring principles and we cannot survive those numbers.
      Happy Fourth of July!

    16. charleslabounty says:

      Does Richard Stengal dismiss the communist manifesto as being trapped in it's own time?
      It was published in 1848.
      He and the rest of the Time staff probably have it framed in the break room.

    17. Daniel Fleming says:

      I appreciated the column. I hasten to add that perhaps the most wonderful approach to the declaration of Independence is its shout out to God. Brilliant … the rights, the principles, the thoughts are from Him and not of this plane. Therefore, having been derived from His graceful hand … who has a right to take them away? Thank God for this country and its founders. I do.

    18. Art Pauly says:

      You left out "by their creator". Why? For the first time since becoming a member, I am disappointed with the Heritage Foundation.

    19. Dr. H.D. Sinopoli says:

      Our Country was set in motion by a vision, then shared by forward-thinking men, to become a 'shared vision' leading to a mission to create a living-space based on fundamental Core Values. These values were inculcated into a Declaration of Independence. The politicians today fail to understand the intent of Core Values. Core Values are non-negotiable.

      Lifer politicians today, Republicans & Democrats have no regard for the Core of our Values. Like any rationalists they believe in change for re-election, survival. They act as if the 10 Commandments are the 10 Suggestions, then bend, twist, and lawyer-up when caught in legal problems.

      Unfortunately they are supported by most organizations seeking power, including Heritage, to promote and maintain the status quo…I realize this will not be published…but it was just good to get it out.

      God Bless America!

    20. S. Henson says:

      Yes it is a great day that we should remenber that we need to set down and think about what we have done to ruin the U. S. A.

    21. Jeanne Stotler says:

      I believe a large copy of this, "The Declaration of Independence", be sent to BHO, although he claims to be a Costitutional lawyer, I have my doubts he has ever read it or the DOI.

    22. Mike the Bike says:

      I take offense with the writer's use of "America" as substitution for "The Republic of the United States of America" (U.S.A.). It was the representatives of the American Colonies of England which actually signed our Declaration of Independence, as the U.S.A. was only formed later. America was and is the common name for the whole western hemisphere, also know by the Europeans of the time as "the New World". Therefore, all the countries and citizens of North, South and Central America can call themselves "Americans"! Just like the U.S.A has been misrepresented as a "democracy", so the U.S.A. is misrepresented to its citizens as "the only America".

    23. Clearhead says:

      PRAISE God from whom all blessings flow. THANK Him for allowing us to establish our beautiful country in the way it was established. DECLARE to Him that come hell or high water, we will protect, defend, yes, and FIGHT for the preservation of this magnificent blessing He has bestowed upon us. And MEAN what you declare to Him !!

    24. kaydell bowles says:

      A great commentary…Thanks

    25. Don Timberlake says:

      I was surprised at Heritage for making two emissions in your comments on the Declaration of Independence. It says, as you can clearly read, they were created by nature's God ( singular and one who rules over all natural processes) [not by nature] and they were endowed by their creator, (this one God who created them) [not just have] with certain inalienable rights. They did not get these rights from the government nor any natural process, but from their creator, who rules over all governments, nature, and natural processes. Its bad enough for NBC to leave out "under God" from the pledge, surely Heritage shouldn't omit it from its comments on the Declaration of Independence.

    26. Lloyd Scallan says:

      Many that call themselves American do not believe in any part of what our Founding Fathers intended for this nation. Ironically, the very freedoms we cheirsh have been infected with "political correctness" and a permissive society that is slowly destorying these very feedoms. Their must be restriction to what we call freedoms and rights. From Teddy Roosevelt to today's crowning glory Barrack Obama, the national media (print and on air), to the Supreme Court, to the very Congress we elected, these leftist progressive have taking away what we all strive for. Yet their are so many of us that sit dumpfounded and think, "this could never happen here". Well guess what, it is. And unless we do something about it, Obama and his ilk will
      reach their final goal of a totally socialist America.

    27. Country says:

      Please explain why you quoted Calvin Coolidge regarding 'new thoughts and new experiences' and in the next paragraph quoted an unnamed president saying " if all men are created equal, that is final". A quick check revealed that the unnamed president who made that statement was Calvin Coolidge. It appears you are relying on Coolidge quotes to support both sides of your argument. Your credibility is at risk when you when use deceptive techniques to argue a point.

    28. Laurie says:

      We must stand up and not let them take our freedom away, TSA, EPA, OBAMA
      -"care", (Bare is more like it), NO-OIL digging, PRINTING MONOPOLY $ (by the Feds to destroy our currency)…….all these things are crushing our freedom and our lives. Stand up, do not give up, call the White House, 202 456-1111, call 202 224-3121, Congressmen……flood their phones with calls the way they are flooding us with worthless dollars. VOTE THEM OUT FOR OUR FREEDOM!!

    29. DonnaW says:

      The modern ideas they speak of are really the oldest ideas, that man is too stupid to govern himself, the elites must rule over him. The "dumbed down" education system is creating a generation perfectly suited to their plan. Our form of government requires an informed populace. They are transforming our young people to suit their purpose. We must restore our American public schools.

    30. Curt Krehbiel, Midland, TX says:

      Thank you Heritage, for the Morning Bell. It is one of the first things I look for and read in the morning. Oh yes, I subscribe to and read other Heritage writings.

      Happy Independence Day,

      Curt Krehbiel

    31. James says:

      What a great country America is!
      God bless you all.

      James from Frapeideas.com

    32. Don says:

      The author's comment on paragraph two of the declaration "all men are equal by nature and therefore have certain inalienable rights" is different from what the declaration says "that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights". The difference in meaning is profound. As is the difference between our assumption of endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and the UN's assumption that we are given certain rights by the government.

    33. Frank E. Vincent says:

      Thanks Julia, I needed that. God Bless America and her freedoms.

    34. Larry says:

      It is my understanding that Pres. Coolidge actually rejected Woodrow Wilson's idea of a "living constitution". I believe Coolidge also was responsible for the quote, "If all men were created equal, that is final." etc He has never received his just due, ie: Ending segregation in federal employment!

    35. Caristiona says:

      A very nice article. Unfortunately, it leaves the "Creator" out. Whether we believe or not in the Creator, this is, indeed, an important part of this document and of the way this country was founded. Thank you.

    36. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      What Obama and other liberals don't recognize is that contrary to the new Harvard study, today isn't a Republican holiday, or a Democratic holiday, it's AN AMERICAN HOLIDAY!

    37. Jane says:

      One of the additonal things that sets our country apart, is that our Constitution was designed by people who looked to Scripture for guidance. The concept of the three branches of government were derived from Isaiah 33:22. James Madison used this as the model, “For the LORD is our judge (Judicial Branch), the LORD is our lawgiver (Legislative Branch), the LORD is our king (Executive Branch); He will save us.”


    38. bjcass says:

      The clear and obviously calculated omission of any reference to "our Creator" is surprising and disappointing. The belief and conviction that our rights are bestowed by God is the lynchpin of the Declaration.

    39. Bruce Garner says:

      If we truly believe that ALL are endowed with equal rights then we need to be honest and work to make sure that ALL really does mean ALL. I saw no exceptions in the Declaration of Independence based on gender or race or ethnicity or sexual orientation or economic status or country of origin or even whether documented or undocumented. If we do mean ALL, then let's make sure that is the case and not make some "more equal than others" regardless of whatever justification for that we can dream up. The sad part is that some form of government has often had to intervene to insure that the rights of all stayed equal. Until we understand and accept that ALL does mean ALL, then our rights will need to be protected from those who would deny some they very rights they enjoy.

    40. West Texan says:

      Richard Stengel of Time magazine is obviously too lazy to learn about America's federalism. Besides, such structural principle blocks today's big government social progressives. 18th century Robert Yates and others have been proven correct regarding their concerns over the proposed constitution. Had it not been for the Bill of Rights, their fears would have been realized far sooner. The constitution is an imperfect document that vaguely granted an open line of implied powers to the federal government. It's no wonder states and their residents have witnessed an erosion of their Independence and individual freedoms. Maybe we need another declaration to remind those elected Beltway elitists and their judicial activist why they've been housed near the Potomac. Heck! Even in my small world along the Rio Grande, I fully understand what's at stake for the genius of our founders' dual sovereign design and its positive impact on the general welfare. Our country's history will surely be shortened if we continue down the path of national social progressive madness.

      • Bruce Garner says:

        If you look closely however, the vast majority of actions that the Federal Government have taken are those that states either could not do because of interstate issues or refused to do such as a variety of civil rights issues. It's easy to forget that this nation is so large and complex that much of what benefits us the most is the result of the over-arching authority of the Federal Government. States don't get along with each other any better than those elected from the various states get along with each other. Congress reminds me of children playing in a sandbox on a playground and squabbling over everything because they haven't learned to work together. I wouldn't trust my own state to do "the right thing" with very many issues at all because they are so partisan in outlook that they are likely to try and take away rather than give to citizens. God help us if all 50 were acting on their own…..the chaos just from issues related to commerce among and with states would grind businesses to a halt for lack of goods. It's never as simple as some want to think.

    41. Ron W. Smith says:

      Julia Shaw's article is excellent. However, overlooking what was overlooked by those who created the Declaration of Independence, the existence of slavery, is a kind of inaccuracy, don't you think? We all know slave ownership was a commonplace in the colonies–a contradiction of core statements in the declaration about "men" being created equal and having equal rights. Yes, I agree America is an exceptional nation, but slavery–the buying and selling of human beings, owning them and circumscribing their existence–shows an imperfection in the judgment of many people in those times, the framers of the Declaration included.
      Saying nothing at all in the course of her article about the routine violation of human rights before and after 1776, leaves Shaw in a strange position. Those "principles" she goes to great lengths to make clear are counterweighted with facts she goes to great lengths to avoid. The Declaration of Independence is a superb and enduring document flawed only by the inconvenient facts surrounding slavery. There's just no hiding that in any truthful discussion of American exceptionalism.

    42. Juliana says:

      I think the 14th amanment of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution allowed Uncle Sam to adopt me…Need to dig out the 1965 Our Government Text book to reread it ! George Washington raised the Bible above his head after he sworn in with one hand on the Bible!

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