Louisiana Representative says The American Founding Is Bad
Study after study has demonstrated that rudimentary civic knowledge has plummeted in recent years. Many states have therefore taken specific steps to help ensure that students have a familiarity with our most basic governing documents. In Louisiana, Rep. Valerie Hodges introduced such a bill. Following the lead of states like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, and others, her bill stipulated that Louisiana students recite the famous fifty-six words that form the heart of the Declaration of Independence:
“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.”
State Rep. Barbara Norton vehemently objected to this bill. She avowed that those words from the Declaration were not true, and relied heavily on Dr. Martin Luther King as the basis of her argument. She believed that equality did not exist until Dr. King, and that words from the Declaration should not be part of student studies.
Rep. Norton’s response is disappointing on many levels, and it certainly demonstrates that Rep. Norton knows little of American history and even less about black history as it relates to the Declaration of Independence.
For example, she stressed the importance of Dr. King but apparently did not realize that in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, as well as many of his sermons, he quoted extensively and favorably from the Declaration of Independence:
“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” – “I Have A Dream” speech, Washington, 1963
“It wouldn’t take us long to discover the substance of that dream. It is found in those majestic words of the Declaration of Independence – words lifted to cosmic proportions: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God, Creator, with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ This is a dream. It’s a great dream. The first saying we notice in this dream is an amazing universalism. It doesn’t say “some men,” it says “all men.” It doesn’t say “all white men,” it says “all men,” which includes black men. It does not say “all Gentiles,” it says “all men,” which includes Jews. It doesn’t say “all Protestants,” it says “all men,” which includes Catholics. It doesn’t even say “all theists and believers,” it says “all men,” which includes humanists and agnostics. . . I still have a dream this morning that truth will reign supreme and all of God’s children will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. And when this day comes, the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” – July 4th, 1965, at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia
By Rep. Norton denouncing the famous words from the Declaration, she might as well denounce Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, for it emphasized the same content she opposed.
But Dr. King wasn’t the first black civil rights activist to praise the Declaration of Independence. Frederick Douglass, who had himself been a slave, stated:
“The principles contained in that instrument [the Declaration of Independence] are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”
And Henry Highland Garnet, who like Douglass was born in slavery and also escaped, became the first black man to officially speak at the U. S. Capitol. Following the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery in February 1865, the House asked Garnet to preach a sermon celebrating that momentous event. In his two-hour discourse, Garnet told listeners:
“The Declaration [of Independence] was a glorious document. Sages admired it, and the patriotic of every nation reverenced the God-like sentiments which it contained.”
Clearly, black civil rights advocates praised the sentiments contained in the Declaration of Independence. (Significantly, the Declaration was heavily relied upon by abolitionists to aid their cause, and the women’s rights movement based their documents directly on the Declaration of Independence.) It’s too bad that Rep. Norton wants to withhold from students a knowledge of the document that black leaders praised for almost two centuries.