Guest Essayist: Dr. David Bobb, Director, Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, Hillsdale College

When in 1863 Abraham Lincoln began his address at Gettysburg battlefield with the phrase, “Four score and seven years ago,” he reminded his fellow citizens that their cause in the Civil War was also the cause of 1776.  In the year of America’s birth, Lincoln stated, “Our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

America’s principles are liberty and equality, and our Founding understanding of their relationship was revolutionary.

The Declaration affirms the idea that all human beings are created equal in their possession of “certain unalienable rights.”  These rights include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  They are given to human beings by “Nature’s God”—not government.

These natural rights are an individual’s most precious property, America’s Founders argued.  Government’s primary purpose is to protect these fundamental rights.  The Declaration of Independence is an indictment of a government that had betrayed its purpose.  Instead of protecting his subjects’ rights, King George III routinely violated them.  Rejecting their status as subjects to a king who had become a “tyrant,” Americans declared to the world that they now stood proudly as citizens of a new nation.

Citizenship requires self-government.  Americans, James Madison wrote, “rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.”  The readings in this series, drawn from Hillsdale College’s The U.S. Constitution: A Reader, are direct or indirect reflections on the American experiment.

The United States Constitution is the written result of America’s early political experiments.  Drawing from their own colonial experience and the history of other regimes through the ages, the framers of the Constitution rejected the Articles of Confederation as a failed experiment, and launched a new one that was based upon a “new science of politics.”

That new regime, or form of government, was republican.  The people do not rule directly; rather, they are responsible for electing their representatives.  These representatives, in turn, are responsible to the Constitution, and to the people.  Our government was designed to be limited, but not weak.  Its strength is necessary so that the rights of American citizens are protected, and the purposes of the Constitution upheld.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Progressive thinkers challenged the Founders’ experiment in self-government with what they saw as a new-and-improved model of experimentation led by experts.  Instead of relying upon popular virtue and the institutional arrangements of separation of powers, federalism, and limited government, Progressives put their faith in the prospect of political perfectibility of mankind.

The U.S. Constitution: A Reader is a dialogue across the ages about the most important political questions.  By pointing us back to the classics of political thought that have defined our successful experiment in self-government, this forum will also reveal the major challenges to the Constitution.

We invite your participation in this constitutional conversation, and welcome the contribution you will make to the renewed success of the American experiment in self-government.

Read The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America here:

14 replies
  1. Ron
    Ron says:

    Janine & Cathy, thanks for continuing this important educational program. I’m looking forward to deepening my understanding of our history and, hopefully, being able to pass on what I learn to others.

    After reading the Declaration a number of times over the past few years while studying, I’ve come to believe that the Preamble to the Declaration really IS the Declaration and that all that follows the Preamble supports our founders’ assertion that the King has failed to secure the God-given rights of all human beings under his care to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Woodrow Wilson suggested that we ignore the Preamble and focus on the list of grievances; he misses the whole point of the Declaration.

    I recently read that Aristotle defined happiness as: “Deriving from dedication to the goal of living a good life, which entails a never-ending quest for the noble goods of knowledge and wisdom, happiness being something we do, not how we feel. We won’t be truly happy until we apply the fruits of our personal self-development to meeting the needs of others.”

    Aristotle’s definition pretty well defines what we are doing here at Constituting America. I wonder how many Americans would define happiness that way; I suspect most focus on “feeling” happy and on the acquisition of “stuff” to make them feel happy. Aristotle’s definition is consistent with God’s command to serve Him by serving our fellow man.

    • says:

      Thank you, Ron! What a wonderful post with which to kick off comments on our Fourth Annual 90 Day Study! We are blessed to have had your participation over the past three forums, and look forward to your insights this year!

  2. Halley Moak
    Halley Moak says:

    This is going to be a great study!!!! I just finished learning about World War I and I know freedom is not really free. After watching “Lincoln”, I know how hard it is for people to get along. I never really thought of his Gettysburg speech being like the Revolutionary day freedom speeches. Good point!!!warrant Thanks!

  3. Fred Lassonde
    Fred Lassonde says:

    Dear Janine and Cathy, Just wanted to let you know that I am excited that the 4th educational 90 day is starting. I sure enjoy all that is presented and what you Ladies do to help others learn about our Constitution, Amendments, Bill of Rights, and other great books related to helping form our Constitution (I especially like John Locke as I am a Teacher and Minister. I also wrote a (or attempted to write a) poem about youi and the Constitution in which I emailed to you for your benefit, if you wish (feel free to change it if you find it useful). Again, I am looking forward to this great work you are doing and applaud you forall of youir wonderful efforts and successes. God bless you all!

  4. Claire organ
    Claire organ says:

    I am glad you are encouraging people to read Hillsdale’s Constitution Reader. I have just finished their Constitution 201 class and encourage everyone to take Hillsdale’s Constitution classes. The American people need the kind of information Constitution America and Hillsdale College are making available. God bless you.

  5. Donna Rose
    Donna Rose says:

    Thank you for a chance to continue to study. I enjoyed so much Consititution 101 and 201.
    It has certainly increased my understanding of our great consititltution and of our forefathers who indeed were led of the Lord.
    Sincerely Donna Rose

  6. Barb Zack
    Barb Zack says:

    I was so excited to hear about this educational 90 day project. I’ve been with you since the first one with the Federalist Papers and I have learned SO much! My favorite passage from the Declaration is this: “…when a long train of abuses and usurptions, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new Guards for their future security”. This passage, to me, is the heart of our form of government and sums up perfectly our duty as citizens of our Blessed Nation. It seems as a Nation we are drawing nearer this point every day. Thank you, Thank you, for this wonderful project and opportunity to learn even more about what the history of our Great Nation. I tell everyone I know about this site. Blessing to you both, Janine and Cathie for this, and I can’t wait to come here every day to learn more.

    • Janine Turner and Cathy Gillespie
      Janine Turner and Cathy Gillespie says:

      Howdy Barb! Welcome back! We are so happy to have you with us on our BEST 90 Day Forum, yet! We appreciate your being a part of all of our 90 Day Studies since we started in 2010! Thank you for taking the time to read, learn, and discuss with us.
      Janine & Cathy

  7. Debbie Bridges
    Debbie Bridges says:

    Thank you for continuing to bring these great studies to the people! I just started today and look forward to reading John Locke and all. I’ve never read them despite the best of intentions to do so and this affords me the perfect opportunity to do so. I followed along with the Federalist Papers and a bit with the Constitution as time warranted but will try to make the time every day for this study. I learn so much from them. Thank you for all you do!

  8. James Burtner
    James Burtner says:

    Self-government, equal rights, life, liberty, property, the pursuit of happiness. The natural rights of man, and the duty to protect each is what entitles man to these puruits. In a nation where these have been forgotten by the mainstream, the study I have conducted in these areas over the past 5 years have led to tremendous personal growth, and it has continued my spiritual growth in a way that can only be considered Holy Spirit driven. I personally already read John Locke’s Treatises on government and his essays last summer.
    It’s ironic that Ron quotes Aristotle, in that I have come to understand the same without ever having read Aristotle, and come to the similar conclusions. I see it as man being created in the image of God, but being ignorant of the fact from birth, we must learn to develop each of those traits which we share with him by nature, such as nobility, honor, integrity, dignity, righteousness, honesty, justice, productivity, and competence, which is becoming fully mature in each of these areas. When we sin, it is rebellion against our own nature, which we share with God; it mars the image that is our natural state.
    I look forward to the education and growth that will come from this study. There is so much more that I look forward to studying, but I’m content to focus on this study for the next few months as I step out and seek to develop the ministry that God has been leading me towards.


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