Thomas Jefferson: Leave His Legacy Alone

THOMAS JEFFERSON - with sunglasses

by Diane Rufino, Feb. 22, 2018

Thomas Jefferson is probably one of our greatest Founding Fathers, if not the greatest of them all. I think I’m going to be triggered if one other person demonizes him and demeans his legacy because of the fact that he owned slaves. Slavery was not only legal at that time, even constitutionally-protected, but it was a way of life all over the globe.

Jefferson’s presidency lasted from 1801-1808; he was only our young nation’s third president. His two terms were marked by discord with Great Britain, threats of secession by the New England states, an overly-ambitious Supreme Court, and he passed away on July 4, 1826. During that time, slavery was used by the great world powers in their island colonies. In 1815, we see that a gradual abolition of the slave trade began, mostly thru treaty agreement. In 1834, Great Britain, the Slavery Abolition Act went into effect, abolishing slavery throughout its kingdom (the British Empire) – not outright, but on a gradual basis over the following six years. Jefferson had been dead many years before the countries of the world took action to end the abdominal institution.

The sins of the entire world shouldn’t become Jefferson’s original.

Jefferson gave us something extraordinary. He wrote the Declaration of Independence, outlining a system of government for our newly-independent states that expressly rejected the British model. Under the British model, Kings have the absolute right to govern their subjects because of a divine right.  In the American States, and then the united States, according to Jefferson, the People have an absolute right to govern themselves because of a natural right.

And yes, when he wrote “All Men are created equal” he meant it to be without regard to race. Jefferson had hoped the new Union created by the Constitution would not recognize slavery as a legal institution.

Yet his contributions went far beyond the Declaration. He convinced James Madison that a Bill of Rights was absolutely necessary and that every freedom-loving individual is entitled to a Bill of Rights to set limits on the exercise of government. He fought long and hard for Freedom of Religion, for States’ Rights, and for a limited federal government.

People who don’t understand the significance of the words of the Declaration and who don’t see that Jefferson gave us something profoundly transformational, should simply thank him and say nothing else. The only reason we still have our freedoms and liberties is because every once and awhile our country has a moment of clarity and tries to get back to the principles Jefferson devoted his life to.

Jefferson has earned our unquestioned and undying gratitude. Monuments to him remind us of that great gems he gave us. Only the ignorant and the dissenters among us see only a slaveholder. We visit Monticello to learn more about him and his life and what inspired his lifelong commitment to service and to the direction of the great American experiment; we go there to see his vast book collection and the great volumes of his correspondence. We don’t go there to learn where his housekeepers slept or how meals were prepared or laundry done for him by his slaves.

I am not trying to demean anyone or demean anyone’s position, and I’m certainly not trying to insinuate that Jefferson was a God or a flawless individual. My point is that great men should be celebrated for their meaningful contributions. Our lives today are better for them and the lives of millions around the world are uplifted because of them. We don’t demonize Abraham Lincoln and demean the role he played in re-uniting the Union, even though we know the reason he pledged to stop the spread of slavery into the West was because he wanted those states to be a land for whites only. We don’t demonize President LBJ and demean his contribution to African-Americans when he signed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act into law, even though we know he was the most vile of racists and routinely referred to African-Americans using the “N” word.  We don’t demonize Mohammed Ali and demean his title as history’s greatest boxer, even though for the first half of his life he was an unabashed bigot and racial separatist. We don’t demonize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr because he cheated on his wife yet claiming the title of ‘reverend.’ We don’t demonize George Washington or demean his role as the Father of our County even though he owned slaves. And we don’t demonize Albert Einstein and reject his theory of relativity because he married his cousin.

Almost every human being is flawed in one way or another. And every important Founding Father can certainly be accused of owning slaves; My goodness… Presidents of the United States owned slaves up until the year 1849.

The insanity needs to stop. What we need to do is take MORE time to learn about this great men and their lives and contributions and NOT vilify them so that we end up spending less time studying them.


The English Roots of American Liberty

MAGNA CARTA - King John signing

by DIane Rufino, January 20, 2018

From the Declaration and Resolves (petition to King Charles listing the colonies’ grievances against the King and Parliament), the Declaration of Independence, to the Bill of Rights / Declaration of Rights adopted by the individual states, to the US Constitution, and to the US Bill of Rights, the Founding Fathers looked to English history for the words and templates to navigate the colonies towards independence and then into a republic. They reflected on the abuses of the Kings and the compacts demanded by the people to check those abuses, as well as the Enlightenment era philosophy on government in building a lasting republic. It is said that our Founding Fathers were wise and extremely well-read, but moreso, they were keenly aware of England’s history, which was, of course, also the history of the American colonies.

The colonists certainly embraced the liberty they found in the American colonies and the chance they had to self-govern as they saw fit. They worshipped according to their conscience, they engaged in trade freely, and they established their own colonial governments. But then they began to see that new-found liberty in jeopardy. The historic abuses of the English monarchy on its subjects now turned to the colonies. The colonists were taxed without their representation in Parliament (a right listed in the Magna Carta and English Bill of Rights of 1689), their trade interfered with (Tea Act), their colonial assemblies suspended (violation of their colonial charters), they had standing armies kept among them (in violation of the English Bill of Rights), they were forced to quarter troops (in violation of the Petition of Right of 1628 and English Bill of Rights), and their firearms and ammunition were confiscated (in violation of the English Bill of Rights). And when they protested and remonstrated these violations of their rights as English subjects, as those of centuries earlier had done, King Charles III ignored and mocked them. To the King, the colonists were crude, almost laughable in their simpler ways. He accused them of acting like petulant children and essentially being bothersome. He did not answer their written complaints, nor was swayed when they pleaded to him, “as loyal subjects,” to please intervene on their behalf to Parliament (for such things as the Intolerable Acts). By 1774, the King had had enough of them and accused them of being in active rebellion against Great Britain. All the colonists wanted was to have their rights respected. [Watch the DVD Set “Liberty – The American Revolution” (PBS) to feel the frustration the colonists felt in the years leading up to the American Revolution].

The question was this: How would the colonists respond?

Well, we know how they responded. Looking at the totality of the situation (“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States…”), the colonists, assembled in the Second Continental Congress, felt it had no other meaningful course but to seek its independence. In asserting what they believed was their natural right of self-determination and right of self-governance, they took a cue from their English roots (the Grand Remonstrance of 1640) and set forth a list of grievances against the King. In the Declaration of Independence, they listed 27 grievances – abuses of their rights – which, as the colonies declared, justified their separation from Great Britain.

When the fighting began the colonies weren’t seeking their independence; they were merely rebelling against tyranny. But North Carolina and then Virginia, and then others, began to call for independence, and on July 2, 1776, the resolution declaring independence was adopted and on July 4, Jefferson’s formal Declaration was issued – “to a candid world. The rebellion turned into a war for independence. Luckily, trust in George Washington paid off and friendship with France paid off as well. After our victory at Saratoga, France sent troops and its naval forces. British General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, VA on October 19, 1781 and on September 3, 1783, representatives of King George III of Great Britain and representatives of the United States of America signed the Treaty of Paris to officially end the American Revolutionary War. Article I of the Treaty read: “His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states…” The colonies were free.

But then next question was perhaps more important: How would they secure the liberty and individual rights they had just fought for? What kind of government system would best suit that goal?

Luckily our Founding Fathers were students of history and philosophy. They studied the Greek and Roman republics and knew what made them great and what led to their demise. They knew the history of England – a monarchy – and knew that although the great charters of liberty were written by the English to limit the conduct of the King and then to include Parliament, they also knew that those protections often went unnoticed. There were several attempts in England’s history to limit (forever) the rights of kings to place themselves above the law, but in some cases, the king took the “Divine Right of Kings” doctrine far too seriously. The Divine Right of Kings was the political/ religious doctrine in England that asserted that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from the will of God. Indeed, the history of England was a series of repeated events – abuses of the King over his subjects followed by a charter or petition demanding that their rights be acknowledged and that the King recognize limits to his power, followed by periods where the King or Kings ignored the charter/petition and subjects were again abused, followed by another petition, etc. For example, King John (1199-1216) signed the Magna Carta in 1215 after his barons took up arms against him, but almost immediately, he broke those promises. In 1928, Parliament presented King Charles I with the Petition of Right, complaining of a series of breaches of law and the Great Charter (Magna Carta) he had committed. The violations were of four general types – unfair and illegal taxation, as well as imposing taxes without the action of Parliament, many due process violations, including imprisonment without cause, quartering of soldiers on subjects, and imposing martial law in peacetime. The remainder of his reign would be marked with such extreme abuses that he would eventually be brought to trial and executed. James II, his son, would be another abusive king. With James II, the people (and Parliament) had had finally enough. He was removed by a bloodless revolution and the new King and Queen, William and Mary (Mary being James II’s daughter) signed the English Bill of Rights in 1689. Drafted by Parliament, the Bill of Rights officially set limits to the right of kings to put themselves above the law. The statute which offered the throne to William and Mary legally conditioned their rule on signing and respecting it. And subsequent kings would thus be limited as well.

All of our Founding Fathers knew that history very well. Again, England’s history was the history of the American colonies. But it was, after all, a monarchy. And a monarchy, as shown, was incapable of truly securing the inalienable rights of the individual. A democratic form of government would work either. True democracy is mob rule. It is always a rule by the majority. It could easily be tyranny by the majority.

In drafting the Constitution, which created our system of government here in the United States, our founders decided the best form of government would be a republic. Their study of history taught them that. As James Madison, author of the Constitution, wrote in Federalist No. 10: “Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths … A republic, by which I mean a government in which a scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”

Article IV Section 4, of the Constitution: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of government … ”

At the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, the task of the delegates was to design the new republic as wisely as possible. like what Dr. Joe Wolverton II wrote in a 2004 article for The New American: “They believed they could find the key to inoculating America against the diseases that infected and destroyed past societies. Indeed, it has been said that the Founders were coroners examining the lifeless bodies of the republics and democracies of the past, in order to avoid succumbing to the maladies that shortened their lives.”

The Constitution was signed by the delegates on September 17, 1787 and then it was sent to each state to be ratified or rejected. Several of the delegates were unhappy with the final draft because it did not include a Bill of Rights and some, including the powerful George Mason from Virginia, promised to try to defeat its ratification in the state conventions. (Patrick Henry planned to help Mason do so). Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, believed strongly that a Bill of Rights needed to be added, but Madison, author of the Constitution, did not. Jefferson wrote: “A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.” States like Virginia and North Carolina and Rhode Island would not ratify unless a Bill of Rights was added, and New York was up in the air. Although it may have been likely that 9 states (as required by Article VII) would have ratified so that the Constitution would have done into effect, the states couldn’t imagine a union without the large powerful states of VA, NY, and NC. And so a deal was made with Madison at the VA Ratifying Convention. He would submit a Bill of Rights as amendments to the Constitution in the first session of the first US Congress. Madison was an honorable man. The rest is history.

Before the deal was made, however, Patrick Henry got up before the Convention to make the case that a Bill of Rights was necessary to secure the blessings of liberty from a government that (as history has always shown) will eventually become too powerful. He spoke these words: “Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessing — give us that precious jewel, and you may take everything else!….. I say, the time has been when every pulse of my heart beat for American liberty, and which, I believe, had a counterpart in the breast of every true American.”

Madison introduced his proposed amendments to the Constitution (a Bill of Rights) to Congress on June 8, 1789, and after a committee put them in final form and Congress adopted them, they were sent to the states on September 25 for ratification. Out of the twelve proposed amendments, the states ratified ten. There are approximately 26 individual rights identified in the Bill of Rights (excluding the unenumerated possibilities in the Ninth Amendment). Of those 26 individual rights, 9 can be traced back to Magna Carta, 7 can be traced to the English Petition of Rights of 1628, and 6 can be traced to the English Bill of Rights of 1689.

I used to think our Founders were divinely inspired to write some of the documents that they wrote….. the words, the themes, the ballsy language. But when you go back and study England’s illustrious history and you read the great charters and documents of liberty – the 1100 Charter of Liberties, the Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Rights (1628), the Grand Remonstrance (1641), and the English Bill of Rights of 1689 – you realize that our Founders had all the templates they needed. In many cases, they followed in the very footsteps of their forefathers – English subjects – who petitioned every hundred years or more for their rights and for the King to limit his jurisdiction over their lives. For example, the Grand Remonstrance listed a series of grievances against Charles I, from the beginning of his reign, explaining why he needed to answer for his actions. In drafting the Declarations & Resolves of Oct. 14, 1774 (series of petitions and resolutions to King Charles I and Parliament in response to the Intolerable Acts), the First Continental Congress adopted the same petition formats that the English used to their King to petition for the rights that were being violated. In drafting the formal Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson used the same format in order to condemn King Charles III and to make the case to a candid world why the people of the American colonies were seeking their political and legal separation from Great Britain. And so history lessons like this are so important because they serve to remind us that our system rests on a very distinguished history of standing up for liberty against tyranny and that the principles embedded in our documents are ones designed to withstand the abuses of those in power, in any branch. And that is why it is so important that those principles should not be taken for granted, maligned just because our fore-fathers were products of another era, or happened to own slaves or represented social norms of the day or happened to sneeze the wrong way, or “legislated” away from the bench by activist judges. Charles I was a miserable, ambitious King who, perhaps more than any other King of England, embraced the notion of the Divine Right of Kings and hid behind the artificial status it created. He quarreled with Parliament (the people’s body established by the Magna Carta to give them representation when it came to taxation) over taxes. He wanted more and more to finance his endless wars. When Parliament wouldn’t give him the funds he demanded, he merely dissolved the body. He did so three times from 1625-1629. When he dissolved Parliament in 1629, he resolved to rule alone and to get the money he needed. And so he raised revenue through non-Parliamentary means – including Ship Money (taxing those who lived along the coast). Most of these things helped to lead to his demise, which followed after he waged a civil war on Parliament itself, which he lost. Charles was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason by (a rump) Parliament in January 1649. He was beheaded. I point to Charles I because he was so abusive and dismissive of the rights of the people that the damage he did signaled the end of British system. After he was executed, Oliver Cromwell served as Lord Protector over England until his death in 1658. The monarchy was restored two years later, at which time, Charles II took the throne. He ruled until 1685 and when he died, his brother James II took the throne. He was deposed less than 3 years later. William and Mary were offered the throne and England got an official Bill of Rights at their coronation.

But one good thing came out of Charles’ reign. He cracked down quite heavily on the Puritans in England, and as a result, they emigrated (ultimately) to New England to found colonies based on religious liberty and eventually to establish the commonwealth of Massachusetts. The history of England is also one of religious tyranny and persecution, and no doubt provided the passion that certain Founders, such as Thomas Jefferson, had to secure religious freedom in the colonies.

England’s history is vital to our education because in her 600-year-or-so history, her people have stood up for their rights – rights they believed were fundamental and essential to their humanity and dignity – and in the end, their petitions, once merely requesting for the recognition of certain rights, became a Bill of Rights (1689), officially recognizing essential rights belonging to the individual that government was obligated to respect. While England does not have an official Constitution, per se, it considers a group of documents (including the English Bill of Rights) as being its “constitution” or governing document. But those documents, which represented the plight of the English for their rights to be free and to be free from government made it to the minds of our American Founders who then incorporated it into our nation’s founding documents. Our founding documents are superior to England’s because in this country, there is an “official” Constitution and an “official” Bill of Rights and both are predicated on something the English system is not – that government power originates from the individual. Those documents memorialize not only the formal recognition of inalienable individual rights, but they set important limits and boundaries on government. If you don’t think the English system of protest and petition didn’t work and if you don’t think it SHOULD be the model we embrace here – consider this: Each time the English people petitioned for their rights, those rights were enlarged, as mentioned above. Also consider this: The ability to have and bear arms originated as a “duty” in England, under the Militia laws. But after many years of the Crown confiscating guns and leaving England’s subjects undefended and vulnerable in the face of despotic Kings (willing to arrest and imprison them merely for political reasons or belonging to the wrong religion), that duty became a “right” in the English Bill of Rights. We have our Right to Have and Bear Arms (Second Amendment) because of the will and determination of the English people.


“English and Colonial Roots of the US Bill of Rights –

Virginia Ratifying Convention, Thursday, June 5, 1788 –

Federalist No. 6 (Alexander Hamilton), Avalon Project (Yale Law School) –

“Liberty – The American Revolution” (3 disc, DVD set), PBS –

The Petition of Right of 1628 –

The Grand Remonstrance of 1640 –

The English Bill of Rights of 1689 –

Dr. Joe Wolverton II, “The Founding Fathers & the Classics,” The New American, September 20, 2004. Referenced at:

QUESTION: Was – Is – Secession Legal?

SECESSION - Map of North America after Confederacy was formed

by Diane Rufino, but based in large part on Leonard “Mike” Scruggs book THE UN-CIVIL WAR, January 19. 2018

On July 4, 1776, thirteen British colonies announced their secession from Great Britain and declared to the world their just reasons: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the Earth the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separate.” (paragraph 1 of the Declaration of Independence)

The Declaration of Independence (second paragraph) goes on to say: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness….”

The Declaration then goes o to list numerous grievances against the British Crown and Parliament. Most of these have to do with the British Crown and Parliament usurping the powers of the colonial legislatures, but mention is made of the King keeping troops among the colonists in times of peace, quartering British troops, cutting off colonial trade with the rest of the world, taxing the colonists without their consent (representation), depriving colonists the benefits of trial by jury, arbitrarily dissolving colonial charters, inciting insurrection against the colonies (including among the unfriendly Indian tribes), and more. (Ironically, the one thing not mentioned among the list of 27 grievances was the disarming of the colonists and confiscation of their arms and ammunition – the one thing that inspired Patrick Henry to submit resolutions he’d written to the Virginia colonial legislature to build and train a militia from each county; “They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?….. The war is inevitable–and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come. The war has actually begun. The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms. Our brethren are already in the field. Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”)  After the listing of the specific grievances, the Declaration emphasized that neither the King nor Parliament would listen to their complaints and pleas for relief. “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

In the closing paragraph, the signers declare that the colonies are “Free and Independent States.” This paragraph also contains the words “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World” and “with firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence.”  Note that the United States of America were not formed into a single national state, but a confederation of independent and sovereign states.

Previous to the Declaration of Independence, both North Carolina (May 20, 1775) and Virginia (early 1776) had already declared their independence from Great Britain. North Carolina took the lead in calling for independence from Great Britain, and her state flag reflects the two historic dates on which she did so – May 20, 1775 and April 12, 1776. On May 20, 1775, a Charlotte government committee drafted the Mecklenburg Resolves which declared the residents of Mecklenburg County, NC independent of Great Britain:

Resolved, That we the citizens of Mecklenburg county, do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us to the Mother Country, and hereby absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British Crown, and abjure all political connection, contract, or association, with that nation, who have wantonly trampled on our rights and liberties — and inhumanly shed the innocent blood of American patriots at Lexington.

Resolved, That we do hereby declare ourselves a free and independent people, are, and of right ought to be, a sovereign and self–governing Association, under the control of no power other than that of our God and the General Government of the Congress; to the maintenance of which independence, we solemnly pledge to each other, our mutual co-operation, our lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred honor.

Resolved, That as we now acknowledge the existence and control of no law or legal officer, civil or military, within this country, we do hereby ordain and adopt, as a rule of life, all, each and every of our former laws, wherein, nevertheless, the Crown of Great Britain never can be considered as holding rights, privileges, immunities, or authority therein.

On May 31, the Committee put the document in final form and adopted it. The updated document announced that all the colonies were independent of Great Britain:  “Whereas by an Address presented to his Majesty by both Houses of Parliament in February last, the American Colonies are declared to be in a State of actual Rebellion, we conceive that all Laws and Commissions confirmed by, or derived from the Authority of the King or Parliament, are annulled and vacated, and the former civil Constitution of these Colonies for the present wholly suspended. To provide in some Degree for the Exigencies of the County in the present alarming Period, we deem it proper and necessary to pass the following Resolves:  (1) That all Commissions, civil and military, heretofore granted by the Crown, to be exercised in these Colonies, are null and void, and the Constitution of each particular Colony wholly suspended……….”

The Resolves were delivered to the North Carolina delegation meeting at the Continental Congress with the hope that the entire Congress would vote and adopt it. The Congress felt the time was not right and did not take the matter up.

On April 12, 1776, the Fourth Provincial Congress, meeting in Halifax County, adopted the “Halifax Resolves,” which gave North Carolina’s delegates to the Continental Congress the authority to vote for independence. It was the first state to give such authority to its delegates.

On May 4, 1776, the colony of Rhode Island declared herself independent of Great Britain, and in late May – June, the Fifth Virginia Convention passed a series of resolutions rejecting all aspects of British authority and establishing a new form of independent government for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, then urged the Continental Congress to follow Virginia’s (and North Carolina’s) lead.

On June 7, 1776, Lee introduced a resolution (the Lee Resolution) to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia declaring independence, and John Adams seconded the motion.

Lee’s resolution declared “That these United Colonies are, and of right out to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together.”

The Continental Congress adopted the resolution, finally declaring independence for the 13 colonies, on July 2, but this day has been largely forgotten in favor of July 4, when the “formal” Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, was adopted.

Clearly, the idea that a people could separate from a government that did not serve them, or in the worst case, had become tyrannical and abusive, was something the colonists believed was a natural right.

The right of self-determination for people seeking independence is firmly established in international law. With US backing, Panama seceded from Columbia in 1903. Norway seceded from Sweden in 1905. In the United States, the right of self-determination and therefore secession is supported by the precedence of the Declaration of Independence which declared our own secession from Great Britain.

While the Declaration of Independence is of immense importance as a founding document, it is the Constitution of 1787 and the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791 that are the official founding documents. The Constitution was made official by the approval of the people of each state acting independently in convention, not by the people of the United States in general. Nor did these states surrender their sovereignty to the United States. Only limited government powers were delegated to the Federal Government and every state reserved the right to withdraw these powers. In fact, three states – Rhode Island, Virginia, and New York – specifically stated in their ratifications that they reserved the right to withdraw. Other states had less strongly-worded reservations, but no state would have ratified the Constitution if they believed that in doing so they would be surrendering their newly-won independence.

When New York delegates met on July 26, 1788, their ratification document read, “That the Powers of Government may be resumed by the People, whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness; that every Power, Jurisdiction and right which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the departments of the government thereof, remains to the People of the several States, or to their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same.”

On May 29, 1790, the Rhode Island delegates made a similar claim in their ratification document. “That the powers of government may be resumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness: That the rights of the States respectively to nominate and appoint all State Officers, and every other power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by the said constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States or to the departments of government thereof, remain to the people of the several states, or their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same.”

On June 26, 1788, Virginia’s elected delegates met to ratify the Constitution. In their ratification document, they said, “The People of Virginia declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will.”

As demonstrated by the ratification documents of New York, Rhode Island and Virginia, they made it explicit that if the federal government perverted the delegated rights, they had the right to resume those rights. In fact, when the Union was being formed, where the states created the federal government, every state thought they had a right to secede, otherwise there would not have been a Union.

It was to guarantee the sovereignty of the states that the Ninth and Tenth Amendments were added to the Bill of Rights. The Tenth Amendment is a particularly straightforward restatement of the federal nature of the government established by the Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Since the Constitution was ratified by sovereign states who desired to retain their sovereignty, the document is classified as a social compact. In essence, it is a contract and thereby its legality is guided by contract law, one of the oldest areas of law. The Constitution is a compact – a contract – between the individual sovereign states, which are the parties, to create the federal government (the creature, or if likening the compact to agency law, the government would be the agent) in order to carry out certain common functions for the states in order that the Union itself could be successful. In the case of Chisholm v. State of Georgia (1793), the Supreme Court expressly declared that the US Constitution is a compact. The right of withdrawal or secession is inherent in the basic document (ie, the right of secession “supersedes” the Constitution) and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments further establish it as a right retained or reserved to each state. It is the option of each state, not the federal government (merely the creature or agent), as to whether it shall remain in the Union or whether it will withdraw. The right of secession was almost universally accepted until Lincoln came up with a new theory of the Constitution – based on a treatise on the Constitution, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, written in 1833 by then Supreme Court associate Justice Joseph Story. [It should be noted that Story’s treatise was highly criticized by leading constitutional experts of the day – including Henry St. George Tucker, Sr., John Randolph Tucker, Abel Parker Upshur, James Kent, and John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was revered as an expert on the Constitution and perhaps even more “Jeffersonian” than Jefferson himself.]

New Hampshire’s constitution of 1792 contains very strong words reserving its sovereign powers as a state. In 1798, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison circulated the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions among the states. These resolutions strongly supported the Doctrine of States Rights and thus also the right of secession. Together these resolutions became known as the “Principles of ’98.”

The Kentucky Resolution, the work of Thomas Jefferson, asserted States’ Rights in very strong terms: “If those who administer the general government be permitted to transgress the limits fixed by that compact, by a total disregard to the special delegations of power therein contained, annihilation of the state governments, and the erection upon their ruins, of a general consolidated government, will be the inevitable consequence: That the principle and construction contended for by sundry of the state legislatures, that the general government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism; since the discretion of those who administer the government, and not the constitution, would be the measure of their powers: That the several states who formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that a Nullification, by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under color of that instrument, is the rightful remedy….”  (Kentucky Resolutions or Kentucky Resolves of 1799)

The Virginia Resolution, the work of James Madison, asserted States Rights also in very strong terms; perhaps stronger: “That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid that they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to Interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.”  (Virginia Resolutions or Virginia Resolves of 1798)

The doctrines of Nullification, Interposition, and Secession are all rights reserved to the states under Natural Law (the Law of Nature and God’s Law) and by the US Constitution (both implicitly by the limited nature of the delegations of power to the federal government, and expressly by the Tenth Amendment). Furthermore, they are remedies available under contract theory (compact law).

None of the states disagreed with the “Principles of ‘98” (which, by the way, were articulated to resist the unconstitutional Alien & Sedition Acts, signed into law by President John Adams, which were gross violations of several of the Bill of Rights, but most notably the First Amendment).

The New England states threatened secession on five occasions: (1) In 1803 because they feared the Louisiana Purchase would dilute their political power; (2) In 1807 because the Embargo Act was unfavorable to their commerce; (3) In 1812, over the admission of Louisiana as a state; (4) In 1814 (the Hartford Convention) because of the War of 1812; and (5) In 1814, over the annexation of Texas (which had seceded from Mexico). Additionally, many New England abolitionists favored secession because the Constitution allowed slavery.  From 1803 to 1845, anytime that New England felt that their political power or commercial power might suffer, they threatened secession. Yet when the Southern states did the same, a war was initiated to force them to remain in the Union against their wishes.

As early as 1825, the right of secession was taught at West Point. William Rawle’s View of the Constitution, which was used as a text at West Point in 1825 and 1826 (and thereafter as a reference), specifically taught that secession was a right of each state. Rawle was a friend of both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin and his 1825 text was highly respected and used at many colleges. A subsequent text by James Kent maintained the same position and was used at West Point until the end of the war in 1865. Several Union and Confederate generals were at West Point during the time Rawle’s text was used. Rawle even spelled out the procedure for a state to secede, explaining: “The secession of a state from the Union depends on the will of the people of each state. The people alone… hold the power to alter their Constitution.”

The right of secession was very well-stated by none other than Congressman Abraham Lincoln himself in 1848: “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable and most sacred right, a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world.”

That same year, Lincoln further stated: “Any people that can may revolutionized and make their own of so much territory as they inhabit.”

But in 1861, Lincoln adopted a view of secession more expedient to holding the Southern states in the Union against their will. He discovered the theory that Supreme Court associate Justice Joseph Story concocted in his 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, asserting that there was an American nation in the minds of the people before the States were formed. This humbuggery had been strengthened by Daniel Webster’s eloquent but disingenuous and speeches to Congress, claiming that the Constitution was not a compact.

So, Lincoln characterized the orderly, democratic Secession Conventions of South Carolina and the Gulf States, conducted in accordance with Rawle’s treatise on the Constitution, and carried out step-by-step in the same manner as the states when they declared their independence from Great Britain and formed the United States of America, as a rebellion perpetrated by a small minority and proceeded on a path that every member of his Cabinet meant war.

As to the question of whether Secession is legal today, the answer is yes. Again, the right is an inherent and natural right, seared into our history by example (secession from Great Britain), implied by the very limited nature of the general government created by the Constitution and the limited powers delegated to it under that document, and expressly reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment.  Lincoln’s government may have waged a war to somehow reclassify the nature of the conduct of the Southern states in 1860-61 (“rebellion” rather than secession) in order to force those states back into the Union, but its actions cannot change the fact that those states exercised a natural and inherent sovereign right. The Constitution was never amended to prohibit that right to a State and despite attempts to judicially remove it, as well requiring the Southern states to include such a prohibition in their amended state constitutions (in order for them to be “re-admitted” to the Union that Lincoln said they never left), such actions are merely exercises in futility; they are extra-constitutional actions that lack authority or power of enforcement. The right of a people of self-determination, as it applies to government, can never be legislated, decreed, or written away. It is an inalienable right, having its place among the other Laws of Nature and among God’s Law.

***  For an in-depth discussion on the topic of Social Compact, why the US Constitution is, in fact, a social compact, and the remedies naturally available to the parties of a compact (which in our case are the individual states), including the remedy of secession, please read by article “The Social Compact and Our Constitutional Republic,” which is the article preceding this one.

BOOK - The Un-Civil War (Mike Scruggs)

— This article is based, in good part, on Leonard “Mike” Scrugg’s book: THE UN-CIVIL WAR: SHATTERING THE HISTORICAL MYTHS (Chapter 6, Constitutional Issues and the Un-Civil War). The purpose of this article and the reason for relying so heavily on Mr. Scruggs’ book is to get the reader interested not only in the topic at hand but also to be motivated to purchase and read his most excellent book in its entirety and then to share the information with others!


Leonard “Mike” Scrugg’s, THE UN-CIVIL WAR: SHATTERING THE HISTORICAL MYTHS (Chapter 6, Constitutional Issues and the Un-Civil War), 2011, Universal Media (Asheville, NC).

Walter Williams, “States Have a Historical Right to Secede,” Columbia Tribune, April 25, 2009. Referenced at: [The section on the Rhode Island, Virginia, and New York Resumption Clauses – included at the time that these states adopted the US Constitution – is taken entirely from Mr. Williams’ article]


Rethinking the Southern Secession Movement of 1861

SECESSION - Union is Dissolved

by Diane Rufino, July 23, 2017

The question is: Was the Civil War fought over the issue of Slavery?  I won’t deny that slavery was an issue that inflamed the passions of both sections of the country and put each at odds with one another, but it was NOT the cause of the conflict that I will refer to as the War of Northern Aggression, a war which claimed the lives of over 650,000 young Americans.

At the end of 1860, with the election of Abraham Lincoln as president, the Union was on the verge of dissolution. By the time Lincoln was inaugurated on April 4, seven states had already seceded and a new nation had been formed, the Confederate States of America (complete with a new constitution).  Following South Carolina’s lead (December 1860), Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and then Texas formally severed political ties with the Union. On April 4, Virginia held a state convention to consider secession but voted it down, 89-45. (North Carolina would do the same). Lincoln could not allow the Union to be split; he could not lose the tariff revenue supplied by the agrarian South which, in 1859, not only supplied approximately 80% of the federal revenue, but was used to enrich the industrialized North. And so, something had to be done to give Lincoln a “pretext” to restore the Southern states to the Union.

On April 12, 1861, Lincoln tricked South Carolina militia forces into firing on the federal garrison at Fort Sumter, even after South Carolina had demanded, and even tried negotiating for, the transfer of the fort to the Confederacy. The attack on Fort Sumter would provide the pretext he needed. He used the incident to characterize the southern states as being in a state of active rebellion and thus ordering troops to subdue them. On April 15, President Lincoln declared a state of insurrection and called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion and to defend the capital.  With that proclamation, four more Southern states left the Union. The first was Virginia.

Virginia did not leave the Union because of slavery; same with North Carolina. We should take particular note of this piece of history.

Virginia looked at President’s Lincoln’s Proclamation and demand for troops, and just as her leaders did when President John Adams passed the Sedition Act, she saw serious constitutional violations and contemplated how she needed to respond.

In reading the responses by Virginia’s Governor John Letcher below, you will see that he exercised all the remedies implied in the concept of State Sovereignty, Tenth Amendment, and even the Declaration of Independence:  First, he refused to comply with Lincoln’s decree – Virginia would not supply troops. That is Nullification and Interposition. And then, because the proclamation evidenced the will of a maniac, a tyrant, and an enemy of the Constitution, and evidenced the transformation of the federal government into something Virginia could no longer trust her sovereignty with and no longer wanted to be associated with, her people decided to sever the bonds which held her in allegiance. Virginia seceded.

On April 16, Virginia’s Governor John Letcher made the following dispatch to Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Simon Cameron:


HON. SIMON CAMERON, Secretary of War:

SIR: I received your telegram of the 15th, the genuineness of which I doubted. Since that time (have received your communication, mailed the same day, in which I am requested to detach from the militia of the State of Virginia “the quota designated in a table,” which you append, “to serve as infantry or riflemen for the period of three months, unless sooner discharged.”

In reply to this communication, I have only to say that the militia of Virginia will not be furnished to the powers at Washington for any such use or purpose as they have in view. Your object is to subjugate the Southern States, and a requisition made upon me for such an object — an object, in my judgment, not within the purview of the Constitution or the act of 1795 — will not be complied with. You have chosen to inaugurate civil war, and having done so, we will meet it in a spirit as determined as the Administration has exhibited towards the South. Respectfully,


The following day, Governor Letcher issued the following proclamation, which was published for the people of Virginia to read:

Whereas, Seven of the States formerly composing a part of the United States have, by authority of their people, solemnly resumed the powers granted by them to the United States, and have framed a Constitution and organized a Government for themselves, to which the people of those States are yielding willing obedience, and have so notified the President of the United States by all the formalities incident to such action, and thereby become to the United States a separate, independent and foreign power; and whereas, the Constitution of the United States has invested Congress with the sole power “to declare war,” and until such declaration is made, the President has no authority to call for an extraordinary force to wage offensive war against any foreign Power: and whereas, on the 15th inst., the President of the United States, in plain violation of the Constitution, issued a proclamation calling for a force of seventy-five thousand men, to cause the laws of the United states to be duly executed over a people who are no longer a part of the Union, and in said proclamation threatens to exert this unusual force to compel obedience to his mandates; and whereas, the General Assembly of Virginia, by a majority approaching to entire unanimity, declared at its last session that the State of Virginia would consider such an exertion of force as a virtual declaration of war, to be resisted by all the power at the command of Virginia; and subsequently the Convention now in session, representing the sovereignty of this State, has reaffirmed in substance the same policy, with almost equal unanimity; and whereas, the State of Virginia deeply sympathizes with the Southern States in the wrongs they have suffered, and in the position they have assumed; and having made earnest efforts peaceably to compose the differences which have severed the Union, and having failed in that attempt, through this unwarranted act on the part of the President; and it is believed that the influences which operate to produce this proclamation against the seceded States will be brought to bear upon this commonwealth, if she should exercise her undoubted right to resume the powers granted by her people, and it is due to the honor of Virginia that an improper exercise of force against her people should be repelled.

Therefore I, JOHN LETCHER, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, have thought proper to order all armed volunteer regiments or companies within this State forthwith to hold themselves in readiness for immediate orders, and upon the reception of this proclamation to report to the Adjutant-General of the State their organization and numbers, and prepare themselves for efficient service. Such companies as are not armed and equipped will report that fact, that they may be properly supplied.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the Commonwealth to be affixed, this 17th day of April, 1861, and in the eighty-fifth year of the Commonwealth.


On April 17, in a newly-called convention, Virginia, the traditional leader of the South, made the decision to secede – 88 to 55, on the condition of ratification by a statewide referendum. Neither Virginia nor any of the other later-seceding states understood the federal government to authorize violence against member states.

Virginia’s ordinance of secession was ratified in a referendum by a vote of 132,201 to 37,451 on May 23.

On April 4, Virginia decided to remain in the Union. How did that decision preserve or extend slavery?  Virginians had been willing to endure a crushing protective tariff under President Lincoln, the likes of the Tariff of Abominations (1828). And they understood that remaining in the Union would mean that slavery would continue to be under attack by his administration. Virginia was loyal to the Union even when the government was antagonistic to her.  No, slavery wasn’t the reason the Southern states of Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina (and probably others), left the Union. It would be Lincoln’s demand for troops that would change their minds. To these states, remaining in the Union was to abandon every principle of confederation that they valued. Continued loyalty to a Union that would attack member states and being forced to take up arms against her neighbors was inconceivable and intolerable.

Slavery was the issue that caused the North to become aggressively hostile to the states of the South and to cause the South to question whether the two regions could ever have enough of a common interest to remain joined together with a government that was to serve each equally and fairly. But the independent ambitions of the federal government and the schemes and twisted ideology of its president were the direct cause of its violent course the division would take.



“Governor Letcher’s Proclamation: His Reply to Secretary Cameron – State of Affairs Norfolk,” New York Times, April 22, 1861.  Referenced at:



Those Who are Tearing Down Confederate Monuments are Forcing Selective Amnesia on Americans


ROBERT E. LEE - in front of door

by Diane Rufino, July 27, 2017

In this era when Southern (Confederate) leaders, symbols, generals, buildings, etc are being erased from our memory and history, and vilified in our conversations because of their connection to slavery, I wanted to take this opportunity to remind folks that they should really do some homework before jumping on this politically-correct bandwagon.  A history lesson is an opportunity for speech, for dialogue, for debate, for learning.  Erase history and you erase much more than the mere reminder than an event happened. Erase the memory of the Confederacy and you erase a time when states had the backbone to stand up for the principles in the Declaration of Independence (“Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness..”). Erase the memory of the Confederacy and you erase a time when states were willing to exert their natural rights of self-determination (aka, secession) rather than allow the federal government to subjugated them completely to its ambitious designs. Erase the memory of the Confederacy and you erase the last time in our nation’s history when states actually believed themselves to be the powerful sovereigns that they thought they would be under the US Constitution.

Be careful how you treat history.

Now many, it seems, are calling for the destruction of the monuments erected to Confederate leaders and Confederate generals, such as the great General Robert E. Lee.  There is no finer gentleman, no finer American, no finer human being than General Lee.  When President Lincoln tricked the South Carolina militia to fire on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1860, therefore giving him the reason he needed to raise troops to invade the South and force it back into the Union, he had some soul-searching to do. He was summoned to serve Lincoln and command the Northern Army, but then he would have to take up arms against the state he loved so much. Back in the day, one’s citizenship and one’s loyalties were first and foremost with one’s state (except, of course if you were a member of Congress). It was Lincoln’s Proclamation of April 15 that made Lee’s decision to fight for Virginia an easy one. Lincoln sent a dispatch to states such as Virginia and North Carolina, demanding that they send 75,000 troops to the Northern Army in order to invade the “rebelling states.”  Taking up arms, killing fellow Southerners, and imposing government force on his neighbors were things his conscience would not allow.  And so, he resigned the standing position he had with the government and joined the Confederate cause (Virginia voted to secede on April 17).

Lincoln had a tortured understanding of the Constitution and the South was right to resist.  Robert E. Lee, like so many other Southerns, was not a supporter of slavery and was looking forward to the day when the institution would either die a natural death (which it was on its way to doing) or would be abolished. He thought it an evil institution.  But slavery was not the cause of the hostilities that brought the War. It was government ambition, the disregard for States’ Rights, and the use of government force against member states (the ones who created the government in the first place) that initiated the violence that would claim more than 650,000 young American lives.  General Lee made the right choice. It may not have been the choice that best served our collective conscience regarding the enslavement of an entire race, but that’s not what the war was about. He made the right choice because only when states have the power to make their rightful decisions, including the decision to separate from an abusive government, can they effectively carry out the essential role that they play in our government system – to check the federal government when it oversteps its constitutional authority.

So, those who clamor to take down the statues of men like General Lee, or to erase his name from buildings and streets, take a moment to read what he had to say about slavery when the war was over: “I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and have suffered all I have suffered, to have this object attained.”


2017 Independence Day Reflection

The Liberty Bell

by Diane Rufino, July 4, 2017

“My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died; Land of the Pilgrims’ pride, from ev’ry mountainside, Let freedom ring!

Every successful experiment starts with a great hypothesis.  A hypothesis is a testable answer to a scientific question; an educated guess. One can say that our great American experiment started with a profound hypothesis. That hypothesis held that liberty is most secure when it is recognized and accepted that human rights are endowed by the Creator — not by government — and are therefore inalienable; that governments are creations or creatures of the People, instituted primarily to secure their rights and to serve them as they seek to establish an ordered society; and that once government becomes destructive of its ends, the People have the natural and inherent right to alter or abolish it and establish another form of government in its place.

That hypothesis was our Declaration of Independence.

Those who read the Declaration and think it stands merely for the notion 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…” are missing the bigger picture. They are missing out on perhaps the most revolutionary, the most profound, the most important political statement ever made. It is the document that has changed the world.

And yet, in planning to declare independence from Great Britain, our Founders could not know that this document, in all its grandeur and espousing such profound and enlightened principles, would be the vehicle. Perhaps history put the right man in the right place at the right time, for the right purpose.

Once hostilities broke out between the colonies and Great Britain, the colonies sought to use the opportunity to issue a simple declaration, stating that they regarded themselves as no longer a part of the British Empire but rather as free and independent States.  Thomas Jefferson would give us much more than a simple declaration.

On June 7, 1776, acting under the instruction of the Virginia Convention and particularly its presiding officer Edmund Pendleton (who had served as the President of the First Continental Congress), Richard Henry Lee on introduced a resolution in the Second Continental Congress proposing independence for the colonies. The Lee Resolution contained three very simple parts: a declaration of independence, a call to form foreign alliances, and “a plan for confederation.”

Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.

That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

On June 11, the Second Continental Congress appointed three concurrent committees to address Lee’s Resolution – one to draft a declaration of independence, a second to draw up a plan to form foreign alliances, and a third to plan a form of a confederation for the colonies. To draft the declaration, Congress named a five-member committee comprised of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut. Although Adams was deemed best qualified to write the draft, he urged Jefferson to write it. Jefferson had approached his friend Adams to confirm that he would be drafting the declaration. But Adams responded: “I will not. You should do it. You ought to do it.”  When Jefferson asked why, Adams explained: “Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can.”  [Adams was indeed unpopular; he had represented the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre

That very day, Jefferson would begin work on the Declaration of Independence. He moved into a small house -two blocks from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress had been meeting – in order to write in seclusion. Because several members of the Congress wanted to seek instruction from their colonies before addressing such an extreme measure, the vote was deferred until July 2.

On July 2, the Congress voted on independence. It adopted the Lee Resolution, which, as reproduced above, declared the individual states independent from Great Britain. “Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”   But the Congress decided it needed to draft a document explaining the move to the public (“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world…”)  Such a draft had been proposed and submitted by the Committee of Five (written by Jefferson), and it took two days for the full Congress to agree on the edits. That is why we see the words “IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776,” at the top of the Declaration, because that is the day the last version was approved and signed in Philadelphia, at Independence Hall.

Once the final version was approved, the actual Declaration on Independence document that was signed on July 4 was sent to a printer named John Dunlap. About 200 copies of the Dunlap Broadside were printed and sent to the states, including to General George Washington.

The document was not titled “Declaration of Independence” nor does the term appear anywhere in the document, yet that was clearly its intention. The declaration justified the independence of the colonies by first asserting their collective understanding of the relationship between the individual and government, as well as the purpose and limits of government, then listing the colonists’ grievances against King George III (summing up with the line: “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people”), and finally asserting certain natural and legal rights, including the right of secession (“That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved”).

The Declaration of Independence was a transformative document.  No longer would individuals have to petition or plead with government to respect their rights. Going forward, government would be established for the primary purpose of securing and enlarging their rights, guaranteeing that an ordered society would be possible while still allowing individuals to exercise the rights that they were born with; governments would no longer treat individuals like “subjects.” They would not be subject to the good graces or generosity of a King or his wrath or insecurity. “Inalienable” would now characterize the rights that their forefathers, Englishmen, could only enjoy if the King allowed it.

I love how exquisitely the Declaration of Independence explains how government is grounded in God’s Law and Nature’s Law and that it is always a creature of the people, for the people. For that reason, governments are always “temporary” in nature, enduring only as long as they protect and secure certain essential individual rights and as long as they serve productive ends. When a government ceases to serve either end, nature and Thomas Jefferson tell us that people have the right, the natural right (the right of self-determination, which is equally as “inalienable” as the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”) to alter or abolish it. And that is what the people of the American colonies, chose to do. The Declaration made the case for that decision, explaining that the “government” of Great Britain – the King and Parliament – had become destructive and abusive of their rights, which had been set forth in the great Magna Carta and solidified in the English Bill of Rights of 1689. As Jefferson made clear, because “the history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States,” it was their natural right to sever political bonds with it, declare independence, to secede from Great Britain), and to establish a new government better suited to serve them and to respect and exemplify their ideals. The founding principles so brilliantly laid out in the Declaration form a foundation as strong as bedrock for our individual rights. If they are endowed by the Creator, who dare have the authority to take them away?  Similarly, if they are natural rights, belonging to us at our birth, we don’t lose them – just as we don’t lose the ability of our bodies to reproduce and have children and just as a falling body will always be acted on by the force of gravity. Some things are simply absolutes. Nature dictates life since it is from nature that we exist.  Jefferson grounded our rights in both God’s Law and Nature’s Law (some will argue that they are, in fact, one and the same), as the first paragraph of the Declaration makes clear: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”

If we only took the time to read this magnificent document, to study it, and to truly understand and appreciate every phrase that Jefferson included, we would have a far deeper sense of gratitude for our Founders and their inspired wisdom and foresight and a far deeper appreciation for what this country stands for (or “stood for”). Perhaps people might even realize that being an American is a far greater privilege that they had ever bothered to contemplate and that maybe, just maybe, such a privilege carries an obligation to conduct oneself in a respectful and dignified manner, always mindful of what he or she represents as a citizen and always ready to defend and exemplify the best that the country stands for. I love our Declaration of Independence, and to me, it is, and has always been, the most important of all founding documents – serving as our nation’s moral compass and forever shining a light on the reasons and principles of our existence.

Jefferson’s profound hypothesis still stands. But has our experiment steered away from hypothesis so that the ultimate question can no longer be answered?  That is the question.  What does the future hold when we’ve loosened the moorings that once tied Liberty to the principles in the Declaration?


PHILLY 2017 - Diane in front of house Jefferson wrote Declaration #2


History Speaks Through the Monuments on our National Mall


by Diane Rufino, January 21, 2017

Yesterday I visited the Jefferson Memorial to commune with my favorite Founding Father. Jefferson is perhaps the single reason I am so very proud to be an American. The principles he articulated in the Declaration of Independence, which the Second Continental Congress adopted in 1776, laid the basis for our independence from Great Britain. It established the principles and government philosophy that defines us as a nation, and although it’s message is lost on most Americans, I am sure to remind my students how it laid the basis for government by proclaiming that power originates with the individual and that power can never be fully divested from them. The Declaration informed Britain and the rest of the world that the thirteen colonies were dedicated first and foremost to the recognition and preservation of individual liberty. To that end, they proclaimed “to a candid world” that individuals of those colonies have the natural right to a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In other words, government serves the people and its primary role is, and should be, to protect their rights. Nowhere in our founding documents does it state that government is a permanent fixture. Nowhere does it provide that the government has the right to seeks its longevity or its permanence. Rather, it exists in form and organization just as long as it serves its legitimate ends. The people always have the right – even the duty – to alter or abolish it when it frustrates its purpose.  Jefferson and Madison, along with our other Founders, knew full well that power would corrupt if it was centralized enough in government, then government would eventually limit or even deny rights away to the people. And in many instances, we see that the fears of our Founders have come to fruition.

What I learned from Jefferson is that when it comes to citizenship, it is perhaps more important to represent an idea or an ideal than merely a physical location.

And so I sat inside the rotunda and gazed up for awhile at this under-appreciated Founding Father. I walked around the room and read some of his poignant quotes memorialized on the walls and reflected on their timeless message. Sadly, to some degree, our government has rejected his wisdom.  Then I went outside the rotunda and looked straight across the tidal basin towards the rest of the National Mall. I could easily see the Washington Monument.  And I could also see the White House.  What I couldn’t see was the Lincoln Memorial.  I thought about that for a moment. And then I began to  note its significance.

It’s true that the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial are not visible to one another. I think there is a reason for that, whether or not it was a conscious factor in the Mall’s design. Abraham Lincoln didn’t see eye to eye with Jefferson. In fact, his vision of government was quite different. While the Declaration of Independence clearly provides that individuals can alter or abolish their government, Lincoln adamantly proclaimed that the Union, and by extension the federal government, was to be perpetual. In fact, after he repeatedly ignored and even violated provisions of the Constitution, suspended habeas corpus, imprisoned journalists, publishers, newspaper owners, citizens and seized their property, waged war without a declaration, etc, he sought a resolution from Congress to excuse those violations. Such a resolution was proposed and it read: “For the preservation of the federal government,”…..  Congress would the actions of President Lincoln.  (The resolution was never voted upon because the session of Congress concluded for the year). Lincoln had to ignore the principles laid down in the Declaration if he was to use force to bring the South back into the Union and convince the North that he had the power to do so.

President Lincoln destroyed the notion of limited government and its relationship to the individual, as promised in the Declaration, and our country has never sought to reclaim those ideals. Why?  Because government had become so strong and no one, no state, and certainly no government official had the guts to challenge the creature that the government had become. States have cowered and caved. They have tacitly relinquished their independence and have become subjugated to the design and will of the federal government. Perhaps that is why, when the government designed the National Mall, it put the memorial to Abraham Lincoln at the most prestigious position. Its layout is spectacular; Lincoln sits on high, looking out over a long reflecting pool, to the strongest branch of government – Congress. Lincoln is rewarded and glorified because he is the president who achieved the most in transforming the government into one of great power and influence and coercion over its independent parts (the States). Lincoln, in a sense, destroyed the ideals that inspired our founding generation to fight for their independence.

The Jefferson Memorial directly faces the White House – the home of our President and Chief Executive. The White House does not face the Lincoln Memorial.  Could it be that this lay-out was intended to remind Presidents of Jefferson’s ideals and the principles of government outlined in the Declaration?  Could it be that the president of the United States should forever be reminded that government is not a tool of an ambitious president (as it was for Abraham Lincoln) but rather an institution which serves the people and their interests in life, liberty, and happiness.

Something to think about.

What I can say is that when I listened to Donald Trump’s inaugural address – and particularly the part when he announced: “Every four years we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power….  Today’s ceremony, however, has a very special meaning because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.”  — I couldn’t help but smile and think to myself how Jeffersonian he sounded.

Maybe, at least for the next few years, we can enjoy a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Maybe Trump, in fact, gets it.