Paul Seaton’s 2014 article on “The Declaration and Thoughtful Citizenship” does a fine job of describing the need to cultivate a thoughtful citizenry through greater knowledge of our nation’s past to inform our understanding of the present and future. In other words, a deeper look at the nation’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and other important historical documents will better inform current generations of America’s exceptional ideals and aspirations so that they may strive to act on them now and in the future.
In particular, it is important that our educational system teach and restore respect for these values to form engaged citizens dedicated to protecting American freedoms and liberties. Seaton begins his discussion of these views with an explanation of the distinguishing aspects of the Declaration:
In a letter to Richard Henry Lee, Jefferson famously characterized the Declaration as “an expression of the American mind.” Let’s spend a few minutes considering that mind. We will find it to be: 1) logical; 2) liberty-loving; 3) manly; and 4) gesturing towards, and calling for, philosophical and theological reflection.
Seaton recognizes the need to examine the document for its original intent and purpose: giving concrete evidence of tyrannical oppression, prior attempts to come to mutually beneficial solutions, and the inevitable necessity of asserting independence. However, understanding should not be the only aim, he argues. One must also reflect on the implications and continuing relevance the document has in today’s society. Seaton calls upon readers to note the balance of logical reasoning and deep love of liberty that underlie the Declaration:
Its confidence in the ability of reason to understand and guide politics, including revolutionary activity, is so remarkable that one could raise it up as a model of capacious political reflection, effective rhetoric, and deliberate action. The Framers of the Constitution and Abraham Lincoln certainly did. Why not Americans today?
To be sure, the Declaration’s mind is not merely logical, not simply cerebral. All this thinking is at the service of something else: in a word, of liberty, both individual and collective. And liberty, while Nature’s and God’s gift and humanity’s birthright, needs to be loved as well as understood, and sometimes defended with life and fortune. The Declaration’s argument is motivated by just such a spirited love.
Seaton concludes by encouraging citizens to consider the document on a deeper level to understand how it employed deep principles to a practical end:
It is a practical document with important theoretical content. It wants to reason and argue, but its argument’s purpose is primarily practical: to declare the causes that impel separation. A thoughtful reader should acknowledge the Declaration’s practical aim, as well as ask: what philosophical and theological arguments were implied, or need to be supplied, to justify its assertions?
The practice of reflecting on history and its possible applications to the present is an essential skill that should be taught to all children, as it shapes them into more active citizens with a greater sense of responsibility to uphold American ideals, Seaton argues. An objective and deeper understanding of the nation’s origins would no doubt inspire many children to aspire to live out these exceptional ideals and ultimately lead the country into a brighter future.
Read the full article here.