Six Innovations on the Road to the American Revolution: Innovation 6: The Right of Revolution

Six Innovations on the Road to the American Revolution: Innovation 6: The Right of Revolution
Photo by Miguel Ángel Sanz / Unsplash

By August Glen-James

After running the gamut of innovations from denying a king’s divine right to rule, redefining the purpose of government, denying the supremacy of the Mother Country, invoking the rights of self-government, and denying the validity of “virtual representation,” the American colonists finalized their revolution: They not only declared their independence from Great Britain on June 7, 1776 in a resolution offered the Second Continental Congress by Richard Henry Lee, they declared their right to independence.

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee offered a resolution for independence in the Second Continental Congress. Being accepted, a committee of five was appointed to write a declaration justifying independence. Thomas Jefferson was asked to do the actual writing resulting in the now-famous Declaration of Independence, which outlined the causes for which independence was the answer. Jefferson wrote and submitted his draft to the committee and after some revisions by, most notably, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, the document was presented to Congress in July 1776—a well-known and celebrated event. More importantly, the Declaration of Independence established a blueprint for freedom that, it may be strongly argued, is a pattern for freedom across language, culture, space and time.

The principles of freedom that have echoed across the globe come from the philosophical statement found at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, which reads:

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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, 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.

Saliently, this statement declares that people are born equal and thereby have natural, nontransferable rights (i.e., unalienable); among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; governments are instituted by the consent of the governed to protect said natural rights; and if government fails to do so, the people may alter or abolish this derelict government and institute a new one to secure and protect their natural rights. Therefore, natural law and natural rights, popular sovereignty, the compact theory of self-government, and the right of revolution have become the philosophy of freedom. That the people are in charge of themselves and that they institute government to serve is a timeless innovation issuing from the American Revolution.