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“Happily for America, happily we trust for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course. They accomplished a revolution that has no parallel in the annals of human society. . . . In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example . . . of charters of power granted by liberty.”
— James Madison
Throughout history, small groups of men with political power have controlled the masses of men by force. On every continent, stretching back through the centuries, the pattern was essentially the same — a pharaoh, king, emperor or dictator had ultimate control over the lives and fortunes of his subservient followers. The underlings were taught that their proper role was to serve those in power. Whatever small freedoms the common men had were considered to be gifts from the sovereign — gifts which could be taken away if the sovereign chose to do so.
Then, in eighteenth-century America, a group of enlightened men turned the world upside down. They instituted a government that was subordinate to the people. They believed that whatever powers a government has are granted by the people. Government exists to serve the people. People do not live to serve the government.
They declared that each man owned his own life and could act freely in peaceful pursuit of his own happiness. They said the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are “unalienable” — that is, they are not gifts of government and may not legitimately be taken away. They stated that the sole purpose of a moral government was to secure these fundamental and inherent rights. Thus, they wrote a constitution that was intended to strictly limit the power of government over the lives of free men.
This was the only political revolution in history that was truly revolutionary. It was a total break with the principle that men are mere pawns in the grand design of those in power. It offered a radical new political system. Other revolutions had merely produced a new tyrant — simply a new person to exercise control over men. The true revolution was the one that openly questioned the control.
Eighteenth-century Americans lived and died in the spirit of liberty. Virginian Richard Henry Lee said, “The first maxim of a man who loves liberty should be never to grant to rulers an atom of power that is not most clearly and indispensably necessary for the safety and well-being of society.”
Boston preacher Samuel Stillman said, “We are engaged in a most important contest; not for power but for freedom. We mean not to change our masters, but to secure to ourselves and to generations, yet unborn, the perpetual enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, in their fullest extent.”
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