What The Declaration Of Independence Says About The American Character

The Federalist has been loaded with great articles in recent weeks, and David Azerrad’s post with the above title is worth taking a few minutes to read. The introductory sentence is:

Many Americans still retain the American character of not only asserting rights but standing to defend them.

Here is his opening, with three sentences bolded for emphasis by me.

The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, was “intended to be an expression of the American mind.” Although not intended as such, it was also an expression of the American character. Woven throughout the text are insights into the minds and virtues of those Lincoln called the “once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors” who fought for the independence we still enjoy.

This aspect of the Declaration of Independence receives scant attention from scholars and citizens, yet it must be understood. The theory of government elaborated in that text presupposes the existence of citizens who know how to govern themselves and are willing to assert their rights. The American character is the unstated premise of the argument, without which the theory, though still true, doesn’t work in practice.

The Vigilant and Manly American Spirit

It is fairly easy to declare rights and proclaim liberties. Countless armchair intellectuals have done so from the comfort of their offices. These rights, however, are not self-executing. God may have granted them to us, but we are expected to defend them. Tyranny, not liberty, tends to be the default historical setting for mankind.

What sets us Americans apart is that we do not merely declare for liberty. We staunchly stand for it. To be an American is not only to know that you are born free, it is to have the courage to defend your freedom. This admirable aspect of the American character is evident in the fifth grievance the Declaration levels against the king.

Read more: The Federalist

Image credit: AllenWestRepublic.com.