• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Remembering July 2

    “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival,” John Adams wrote about the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. “It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

    Adams thought Americans would actually celebrate their independence on July 2, the day the Continental Congress decided to sever ties with Great Britain. The actual Declaration of Independence wasn’t adopted until two days later.

    But July 2 does have significance for America nonetheless. Exactly 100 years ago today, a man who hoped to become President used a speech to launch very different fireworks: an attack on the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

    On July 2, 1912, Woodrow Wilson, the governor of New Jersey, accepted the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. During the campaign, he relied on a stump speech that frankly described his principles for the revolutionary reform of America.

    Wilson’s speech distilled a distinguished career of Progressive scholarship that would replace the old Constitution of individual rights and the separation of powers with an evolving, “living Constitution” of growing and virtually unlimited powers.

    After all, Wilson remarked, Americans have never been “stand-patters” who resist change. And “Progress is the word that charms their ears and stirs their hearts.” Wilson would therefore “like to make the young gentlemen of the rising generation as unlike their fathers as possible.”

    Wilson maintained that both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution had outlived their usefulness—and their now outmoded truths. The scientific facts, Wilson concluded, called for cooperation among the parts of government, not checks against one another.

    Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop. All that progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when “development,” “evolution,” is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.

    Wilson’s Darwinian constitutionalism meant that an evolving human nature wipes away the need for the protection of individual rights by the separation of powers. Liberated from the old constraints demanded by an unchanging and flawed human nature, a government of so-called “neutral experts” would wield almost unlimited powers to deal with the new political and economic conditions of corporations and political bosses.

    Wilson lamented that the Declaration of Independence was an “eminently practical document…not a thesis for philosophers, but a whip for tyrants; not a theory of government, but a program of action.” His “new declaration of independence” enables Americans to fight the tyranny of “special interests,” of political machines and “selfish business.” Whatever the ills of the early 20th century, one might ask Wilson whether replacing the Declaration and the Constitution would not lead to even worse evils.

    Professor Wilson had bold ideas. Presidential candidate Wilson was bolder still. Read his entire stump speech here.

    As Heritage’s Matthew Spalding writes, the Declaration has endured because ”its greater meaning—then as well as now—is as a statement of the conditions of legitimate political authority and the proper ends of government, and its proclamation of a new ground of political rule in the sovereignty of the people.” Those are principles worth celebrating—this week and every week.

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    2 Responses to Remembering July 2

    1. Bobbie says:

      too bad common men aren't of ever more honor today than yesterday. Look how far we were getting and look at the about face we're forced!!!

    2. libertarian jerry says:

      Woodrow Wilson was one of the most arrogant,racist and incompetent Presidents in American History. During his tenure he bought us the Marxist Income Tax,The Federal Reserve Fiat Currency racket,the direct election of the Senate and America's entry into the 1st World War. All 4 of these acts alone place Mr.Wilson in the category of not only incompetent but treasonous as well. At the end of his second term he even admitted that he had "ruined his country." Is it any wonder that modern leftest historians list him as either great or near-great in their ranking of Presidents. Under his 2 terms he allowed 2 Planks to the Communist Manifesto to be woven into the American fabric. The Income Tax and Central Banking. One has been an albatross around the necks of the American population for almost 100 years. And the other has placed Americans into a position of un payable national debt to the point that American citizens will be debt serfs for the next 200 years.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.