Perhaps the most famous sentence in the Declaration of Independence, for twenty-first century readers, is its statement of the "self-evident" truth that "all Men are created equal," and that they are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," which include "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Equally famous is the Declaration's explanation that the very purpose of organized government is "to secure these [unalienable] Rights" through political forms that "deriv[e] their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.' But that is not the end of the sentence. Jefferson goes on to assert that it is equally "self-evident" "[t]hat whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends"- that is, of securing unalienable rights-"it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Date of Authorship for this Version
Balkin, Jack M. and Levinson, Sanford, "To Alter or Abolish" (2016). Faculty Scholarship Series. 5153.