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Historian Newt Gingrich Gives the Washington Post a Much-Needed History Lesson

Posted on July 11 2010 11:00 am
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Ever wonder why our leftist friends aren’t troubled by the concentration of power in Washington and the government’s takeover of vast segments of the economy? Well, one reason may be that they were never really taught the true meaning of the nation’s founding documents, including the all-important Declaration of Independence.

In Friday’s Washington Post, for instance, Newt Gingrich points out that, in a recent news article, the Post seriously misconstrued America’s founding document.

The Post’s article concerned Thomas Jefferson’s editing of the Declaration. The third president (and one of the founding fathers) had initially described the American people as “subjects,” before correcting himself and using the more accurate word, “citizens.” This is significant, says the Post’s Marc Kaufman. It means that

no longer subjects to the crown, the colonists became something different: a people whose allegiance was to one another, not a faraway monarch.

Newt agrees that Jefferson’s use of “citizens” in lieu of “subjects” is significant. However, he explains, Kaufman’s reading reflects “a fundamental misunderstanding of the Declaration of Independence.”

The Declaration does not assert that our rights come from a contract with one another. The Declaration explicitly affirms that our rights come from our Creator and are unalienable. Ironically, the article stated precisely the historic falsehood that is the basis of the modern judicial effort to create a secular America. This secular interpretation is simply historically false, and the facts are profoundly different.

This distinction is at the heart of Abraham Lincoln’s emphasis on the Declaration of Independence in arguing against slavery. If our rights come from God then sovereignty is personal and we the people lend power to the government. That is the most radical recentering of power in human history. It is the heart of American exceptionalism.

Newt focuses on how the Left’s misreading of the Declaration inevitably leads to the judiciary’s forced secularization of America, which we see at work in the Left’s attempt to banish and censor any and all religious influence from the public square.

But it’s also true that if our rights come from a contract with one another and not divine providence, then there is nothing that “we the people” cannot do simply through majority vote. So if, for example, “we the people,” acting through our elected representatives, want to take over General Motors, the auto industry, or the healthcare delivery system, then of course we can do so.

If by contrast, our rights come from God, then surely there are certain unalienable rights — including, perhaps, the right not to purchase health-insurance coverage — that cannot be overriden by majority will.

Consequently, if conservatives want to win politically, the best place to start might be with the American educational system and the nation’s founding documents: Because as the Washington Post’s Marc Kaufmann has inadvertently shown, what is being taught and promulgated in our nation’s schools is often false and inaccurate.

And, as a result, too many Americans, especially those in politics and journalism, seem not to understand what the government can and cannot do — and what governmental actions are and are not consistent with our nation’s political tradition.

You can follow John Guardiano on Twitter: @JohnRGuardiano

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