Martin Luther King's View of the Declaration of Independence
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we honor the work and sacrifice of the civil rights defender to bring true equality under the law to all Americans; that is, the full enjoyment of America's civil liberties to all people in its borders.
King advocated for the right of each individual to pursue happiness in this life. During his many speeches and sermons, he emphasized the need for human beings to be free in order to achieve a happy life.
In a sermon delivered on July 4, 1965, King praised the Declaration of Independence for its bold proclamations of liberty and human dignity. During the sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, he referenced the second paragraph of the document, and then proceeded to expound on the implications of its political doctrines.
'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.
Peaceful tolerance and coexistence were hardly anywhere codified into law or accepted as a cultural norm before the founding of the United States. The idea of liberty for all people regardless of race, religion, or creed was a radical and groundbreaking development in world history.
That is something else that we notice in this American Dream, which is one of the things that distinguishes our form of government with some of the other totalitarian systems it says that each individual has certain inherent rights that are neither derived from or conferred by the state. They are gifts from the hands of the Almighty God.
Very seldom, if ever, in the history of the world has a socio-political document expressed in such profound eloquent and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality. Well, the American Dream reminds us that every man is the heir of a legacy of worth-fullness.
Indeed, there is hardly any document like the Declaration of Independence, which forcefully and boldly proclaims rights that are unalienable to humanity. Yet American history was plagued by a sad history of failure to fully live up to that creed.
Following that statement, King lamented the fact that America had a “schizophrenic personality” regarding these rights, and faithfully seeing that all in her borders were guaranteed those rights.
On the one hand, we have proudly professed the noble principles of democracy. On the other hand, we have sadly practiced the very antithesis of those principles. Indeed slavery and segregation have been strange paradoxes in a nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal. But now more than ever before America is challenged to realize its noble dream.
Such powerful words helped change the course of American history forever, leading to the abolition of legal segregation of Black Americans.
Decades later, many problems still face this country, but thanks to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his contemporaries, legal barriers have been broken down that held back millions of Americans from pursuing happiness and the American dream. Let us endeavor to change the hearts of millions more to inspire all to pursue it with us.