Home Judge’s Opinions Twilight’s Last Gleaming 

Twilight’s Last Gleaming 

by Andrew P. Napolitano
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When a presidential debate devolves into an argument over golf scores and afterward the public argues about the candidates’ mental acuity or personal honesty, when the question for voters is who is the sharper debater rather than who would be more faithful to the Constitution, when both major party candidates support mass surveillance, undeclared foreign wars and borrowing trillions of dollars a year to fund a bloated government, nearly all of which is nowhere countenanced by the Constitution, we can safely conclude that personal liberty in our once free society has been radically diminished and is in the twilight of its existence. 

            Two hundred and forty-eight years ago this week, Thomas Jefferson was fuming in his rented rooms in Philadelphia as the Continental Congress was softening the tone of his final draft of what would become the most critical document and most precise statement of the origins of human freedom in American history. 

            The Declaration of Independence — which is dated July 4, 1776, but was signed and released days afterward — is both an indictment of King George III and his government as well as a manifestation of limited government and maximum individual freedom. Though the final version dropped some of Jefferson’s more bellicose language, the document as we know it is largely his — not only his lofty language but also the three principal Jeffersonian values that it manifests. 

            The first of those values — forgotten in the government today — is the consent of the governed. Jefferson argued, and Congress agreed, that no government is licit or moral or consistent with the natural law unless it enjoys the consent of all those it governs. Yet, historians today believe that at the time he wrote this, about one-third of the adult, white, land-owning males in the colonies supported revolution, about one-third opposed it, and about one-third were neutrals or undecided. So, the very Congress that declared that no government is moral without the consent of the governed itself lacked that consent.

            The breakdown in public opinion would change dramatically in the years during and following the Revolutionary War, but it would never exceed 90% in favor of self-government. The remaining 10% were largely folks who had emotional or financial ties to the British Crown, and many stood to lose fortunes if self-government came — and many of them did.

            The second value that Jefferson wove into the Declaration was that of natural law. The natural law teaches that our rights come from our humanity and our humanity is a gift from God. Jefferson recognized this when he wrote that we are all created equal and endowed by our “Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

            Recognizing the origin of human freedom in the Creator and referring to our rights as inalienable expressly accepts the concept of natural law and thereby rejects the theory embraced by government today, which claims itself as the fountain and origin of our rights. We know the government believes this because it takes away our rights to life, free speech, religious liberty, assembly, private property, travel, self-defense and privacy every day.

            At the outset of the document, Jefferson appealed to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” He could have appealed to the British tradition of individual rights. He could have appealed to the Magna Carta. He could have appealed to numerous acts of Parliament that stated — but pretended — that all men are equal and their rights are natural. But he didn’t. He appealed to the natural law.

            The third Jeffersonian principle — it, too, has been discarded by government today — is that the proper role of government is not to do for the people whatever they want and they cannot do for themselves, as Abraham Lincoln would argue while he was waging war on the civilian population of half the country. Rather, the proper and limited role is to protect the natural rights of those who consent to the government.

            Moreover, Jefferson wrote, that whenever the government — even one consented to by the governed — is destructive of natural rights, it is the right and the duty of the governed to alter or abolish it.

            That was July 4th 1776. On July 4th 2024, the Jeffersonian principles that animated the just war for self-government called the American Revolution have all been discarded. Think about it: Do you know anyone today who has consented to the monster government we have today? A government that claims out of its own belly that it can right any wrong, regulate any behavior, tax any event, borrow any amount, and kill any person, friend or imagined foe? Surely, voting or walking on a government sidewalk is not consent. If you think it is, then the victims of Nazism and Communism consented to those dreadful forms of government. Of course they didn’t.

            Consent today is a myth just as much of government today is a myth. We pretend that we have self-government. We pretend that we consented to it. We pretend that our elected officials actually do represent us. We pretend that we are all created equal. And we pretend that elections actually do change things in a material and substantial way. We even pretend that we have rights that the government protects. And we embrace these pretenses knowing all along that it is the government that assaults our rights, takes our property and kills in our names.

            The former American republic is now an empire, with an annual military budget larger than those of the next nine countries combined; and with troops on more than 1,000 American military installations around the globe. As George III once boasted of his empire, the sun never sets on our empire. Empire: That would be the form of government against which Jefferson and his colleagues violently and successfully rebelled.

            Unchecked government is the archenemy of personal liberty. And a government that rejects its founding values, recognizes no limits to its powers and assaults the liberties of those it governs should be altered or abolished before liberty’s last gleaming turns to a long cold darkness.

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