As July 4th approaches, my son suggested that I blog something about the Declaration of Independence. I was trying to think of what I could say that
would possibly be original or interesting.
Fortunately for me, Eugene Volokh linked to this entry by Eric Muller (via John Barrett) of a previously unpublished July 4th, 1941 address by (then Attorney General and later Supreme Court Justice) Robert H. Jackson. The speech was intended to tie the Declaration principles to support for american involvement in the war in Europe, but it applies as well today, and it applies to more than actual “dictators”. Here’s an excerpt:
You are lifted and inspired, like generations before you, by the majestic cadence of the boldest, the noblest, and best known of all American writings. The Declaration of Independence speaks strong doctrine in plain words. It is the world’s master indictment of oppression. The fervor of its denunciation haunts and challenges dictators everywhere and in every field of life.
But the Declaration of Independence does not stop with mere denials and negations. It sets forth great affirmations as to the permissible foundations of power and political leadership among free men. It lays down a fighting faith in the rights of man — merely as man — a faith to die by if need be, or even more bravely to live by. It impresses upon all political power the high obligation of trusteeship. It established an accountability by the governing few to the governed many. That is why men abroad who wield dictatorial powers over subject peoples would silence the reading of the Declaration of Independence, would tear all mention of it from the record, and torture all recollection of it out of the minds of men. Even at home there are some who hope it will not be read too loudly.
We do not need to be imprudent or foolhardy, but we should recognize that no amount of cautious behavior, no amount of polite talk will earn for us the friendship and goodwill of dictator systems. Ultimately we must come to the day when we shall face their threats and their enmity for no other reason than that we persist in living the kind of life we live.
One fact emerges clear above all others. We Americans cannot cease to be the kind of people we are, we cannot cease to live the kind of life we live. We are not the kind of people the dictators will ever want in the world. They will never have any use for our kind of life, nor we for theirs.
Every American knows now, as he knew it in 1776, that there is nothing for him in that way of life.
Read the whole thing. It’s not very long.