Only We, the People, Can Restore the Spirit of 1776

The history of the world is a story about mankind’s struggle to be free. Millions upon millions of people have died over the age-old question about which form of tyrannical government should be sovereign over man. But in 1776—in a fraction of a sentence in the Declaration of Independence—a revolutionary answer to this question proclaimed:

“…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.”

The men who fatefully signed that document pledging “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” to the cause of freedom announced to the world that the endower of man’s rights was not the government; that the state was not sovereign over man; and that man has the right to his life and the fruits of his labor.

This revolutionary concept changed the relationship between man and government—and marked the beginning of the freest, most prosperous nation in the history of the world.

Unfortunately, it seems that this declaration of freedom remains nearly as radical today as it was more than two centuries ago.

Today, Pennsylvanians are subjugated once again by local, state, and federal governments that required them to work from January 1 to mid-April this year just to pay their tax bills for 2005. This year, state and local governments will spend more than $102 billion—or more than $8,200 from every man, woman, and child in Pennsylvania. Regardless of which political party is in power, Democrats and Republicans have—in the words of Thomas Jefferson—“erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their Substance.”

But our loss of freedom cannot be blamed solely on lawmakers in Washington, D.C., Harrisburg or our local municipalities.

We, the people, are as responsible as are our elected officials. It is we, the people, who have forgotten that a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take everything you have. It is we, the people, who claim to want the government out of our personal affairs, yet vote for politicians who promise government healthcare, government housing, government schooling, and government-guaranteed jobs. It is we, the people, who are discarding the concept of liberty embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

So, instead of wondering where all the patriots have gone as you celebrate Independence Day this year, it is time that we, the people, begin exercising responsibility for our own general welfare. It is time that we, the people, eschew the temporary security promised by another politician peddling another government program. It is time that we, the people, set about the task of throwing off the chains with which we have been gradually shackled by Washington, Harrisburg, and our own home cities and towns.

While it is true that our elected officials have established a “History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny,” we, the people, are the only ones who can restore the Spirit of 1776 in our land. We, the people, are ultimately responsible for reclaiming and exercising our unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness” secured for us 229 years ago today.

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Matthew J. Brouillette is president & CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational institute located at the foot of the Capitol in Harrisburg.