Rediscovering the Declaration

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 30, 2018
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ROTHFUS. Mr. Speaker, since the House of Representatives moved into this very Chamber in 1857, the people's Representatives have debated the great issues of the day. The Speaker's rostrum behind me was redesigned after World War II and words were added to the bottom level that speak to noble aspirations of our Nation: union, justice, tolerance, liberty, and peace.

These words are not the fundamental principles upon which our Nation was founded, but are, I suggest, the fruits of those principles. Consequently, if our founding principles are eroded, these fruits will be eroded as well.

Over recent decades, our Nation has endured a great and ongoing debate that, at its heart, goes to the continuing relevance of our Nation's founding principles. And what are those principles? They are in our 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.''

``The consent of the governed.'' These five words recognize that our Nation's sovereignty is in her people--not the government, not the legislative branch, not the judicial branch, not the executive branch or the Federal bureaucracy, but in the people.

Sovereignty in the people was, indeed, revolutionary in 1776, and it is at the heart of the notion of self-government. This sovereignty in the people, however, is not absolute. It is restrained by a higher law that acknowledges that certain of our rights come from our Creator and are inalienable, among them, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

These rights do not come from or depend on government, or what a majority of people electing the government decide. They require, however, that the government protect them. Sovereignty is further restrained by the higher law that we are created equal.

Our laws should not favor one person over another. All are to be equal before the law, and there must be a fair playing field where all are given the opportunity to develop their God-given gifts and talents.

These concepts, Mr. Speaker, are not just founding principles. These are truths, self-evident truths. There are many today who challenge the notion of truth and claim everything is relative. But the Founders recognized the self-evident truths of the Declaration in establishing this country.

Our Founders built on these principles when they adopted our Constitution and Bill of Rights which limited the power of the Federal Government. The Founders understood that the bigger government became, the more it would infringe on the principles in our Declaration.

It was appealing to our founding principles that our Nation was able to correct the defect in our Constitution that denied equal rights and liberty to those held in slavery.

But some current political views reject the framework of sovereignty in the people, and that such sovereignty is limited by God-given rights and freedoms. Some decry our Constitution's structure as being a charter of negative liberties.

For example, Barack Obama, prior to becoming President said that our Constitution, `` . . . says what the States can't do to you. Says what the Federal Government can't do to you, but doesn't say what the Federal Government or State government must do on your behalf.''

If you don't like what the Constitution says, there is a process to amend it. And those who would advocate for the government to do things, should go through the process of proposing amendments.

Those who are Progressives believe that they can better order a society than can a free people relying on their God-given rights to life and liberty. But this is inconsistent with the notion of self- government.

Progressives believe in the power of government. The power of government should be used to protect rights, not infringe or abridge them. What Progressives miss is how the power of government can destroy communities and lives and infringe upon God-given freedoms, which we have seen in recent decades.

It is the power of the government acting through the Supreme Court that denied the very first right recognized in our Declaration, the right to life, for an entire class of human beings.

To be clear, insisting on universality of the God-given right to life is not an establishment of religion. It is simply an affirmation of a self-evident truth described in our Declaration of Independence.

It is the power of government that put through great society programs that undermine the family and dramatically increased societal challenges as a result.

It is the power of government that targeted the American energy industry, threatening hundreds of jobs in my district.

It is the power of government that took away healthcare plans that people liked, and the power of government that went after the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Rather than looking to the power of government, perhaps we should look to the power of the people. Rightly understood, government should not be looked at as a vehicle for wielding power, but for serving and protecting the rights in our Declaration and Constitution. It is never out of season to rediscover those principles.

This is what Abraham Lincoln called upon us to do at another divided time in our Nation. In an 1858 speech in Lewistown, Illinois, Lincoln said, `` . . . if you have been taught doctrines conflicting with the great landmarks of the Declaration of Independence; if you have listened to suggestions which would take away from its grandeur, and mutilate the fair symmetry of its proportions; if you have been inclined to believe that all men are not created equal in those inalienable rights enumerated by our chart of liberty, let me entreat you to come back . . . come back to the truths that are in the Declaration of Independence.''

If we want union, let us unite around the principles of the Declaration. If we want justice, let us work for equality for all while protecting the right to life of every human being, no matter their age or state of dependency.

If we want tolerance, let us appreciate that while we, indeed, have differences, we should not demonize those with whom we disagree.

If the Little Sisters of the Poor, or a small business, or a private citizen for that matter, hold sincerely held beliefs that people throughout history would recognize as being grounded in the exercise of conscience and faith, we should be tolerant of such exercise.

If we want liberty, let us ensure that our Constitution remains a check on the power of the State that would infringe on the fundamental rights and freedoms our Founders sought to protect.

And if we want peace, let us embrace what our Founders embraced. And like the Founders, let us firmly rely on the protection of divine providence as we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

And when we reaffirm our foundational principles, let us hope that instead of division, we would see the new birth of freedom that Lincoln envisioned.

Mr. Speaker, I rise to express my deepest gratitude to the people of Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District, encompassing Beaver County and parts of Allegheny, Lawrence, Westmoreland, Cambria and Somerset Counties. I appreciate that they elected me to represent them in this House for the past 6 years.

It has been an incredible honor to pursue the objectives they sent me here to do: to get the economy growing at a healthier pace with more jobs and higher wages; to stop government overreach that was taking away the right of people to choose their own healthcare plan and causing their health insurance costs to skyrocket; to stand in solidarity with our veterans; and defend the foundational principles on which this country was founded, including the first right and the first freedom mentioned in our founding documents, the God-given right to life and the free exercise of religion.

Mr. Speaker, I could not have done my work without the support of several constituents, in particular: my wife, Elsie; and my kids, Mimi, Gerard, Edmund, Maggie, Helen, and Alice.

Their patience and endurance with my absences are what many families of those in public life go through, and I cannot thank them enough.

May God grant that our country reaffirm the truths embedded within our Declaration of Independence. May He grant that such reaffirmation does lead to that new birth of freedom that President Lincoln spoke of.