SPEAKING of the Declaration of Independence, the Outlook, exponent of imperialism, says that “it so happens, as a matter of fact, that this document says nothing whatever about self-government. Only one clause, and that a parenthetical one—the phrase ‘deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed’—can be interpreted to imply, even remotely, any doctrine of self-government, and this implication from this phrase is by no means a necessary one.”
This is worthy of note as a sample of the assertions by which American imperialism is driven to seek justification, and of the lengths to which its defenders have gone in the repudiation of American principles.
The Declaration of Independence was given to the world in general, and to Great Britain in particular, by the American Colonies, for the sole purpose of announcing that they had decided upon self-government, and of justifying themselves in that step. This is plainly affirmed by every American history that was ever written.
The Outlook’s statement, therefore, amounts simply to the assertion that Jefferson and the signers of the Declaration were fools—they did not know enough to say what they meant. They meant to separate from British government, they meant to govern themselves; but in undertaking to announce this and justify it before Great Britain and the world, they said nothing at all about self-government, save to remotely hint at it, and even this was not necessary to be inferred from their words! How that document must have mystified the British parliament and the courts of Europe!
But as plain matter of history, it didn’t mystify parliament or any European government in the least. Parliament never asked for an explanation of its meaning. Parliament simply redoubled its efforts to subdue the “insurgents.” And Benjamin Franklin well understood that parliament would hold no doubtful view of the Declaration’s meaning when it, at its signing, in reply to the remark by one signer that “We must all hang together,” he said, “yes; or we shall all hang separately.”
But what new name with the imperialists give to this famous document? For if it says nothing about self-government, it was obviously no declaration of independence. For whoever heard of independence without self-government? How is an independent State governed if it does not govern itself? And when it was declared that the thirteen American colonies “are, and of right ought to be free, free and independent states,” what kind of government were they expected to have if not self-government? But the imperialists tell us at once what the “Declaration of Independence” ought to be called.
Obviously, the doctrine of imperialism is in desperate straits for any means of justification before the American people. But it cares little for justification; it means to proceed in defiance of justification, as its nature is to do.