Our Founding Fathers Risked Beheading—And Changed the World
By Nancy Thorner On Sep 7, 2019
Chicago author and lawyer, David Shestokas, shared his fascinating story about his book, “Creating the Declaration of Independence” at the 4th Annual Conservative Activist Conference held at Bolingbrook, IL, on Saturday August 24, 2019.
David Shestokas began his presentation by imparting why it is so important to know the facts about the founding of our nation by discussing a recent New York Times publication called the “1619 Project.” The Project called attention to the fact that 400 years have passed since the first African slaves were brought to America. Read here an article appearing in the American Thinker on August 31, 2019, The Lies of the 1619 Project. Although seemingly a worthwhile endeavor, the real purpose of the publication can be found in the opening headline of its first essay: “Our democracy’s ideas were false when they were written.”
As Mr. Shestokas explained, “While well written and with valuable information regarding the struggland contributions of the enslaved and their ancestors, the ‘1619 Project’ rewrites history by placing the country’s founding at 1619, not 1776, and stating that the purpose of the American Revolution was to maintain slavery.”
Continuing: The “1619 Project” is the next salvo by those working to extinguish the soul of the country. The first was to basically remove American history from our schools and then engage in a rewrite. It is up to us to be the keepers of the flame lit in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence.
Shestokas went on to explain how Article VI of our Constitution requires that an oath be taken to support the Constitution of all executive and judicial Officers, of the United States and of the several States.
Illinois attorneys are required to take the following oath:
“I do solemnly swear, that I will support the constitution of the state of Illinois and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of attorney and counselor at law to the best of my ability.”
David Shestokas has taken a similar oath five more times since 1987 when he became an Illinois attorney, three times to practice before other courts, as an elected official, and as an Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney.
As Shestokas noted, the taking of oaths and other provision in our Constitution exist to execute the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence. It’s not possible to “support” the Constitution without understanding the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration of Independence changed the world and remains a stumbling block to tyranny and oppression 243 years after Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration. Since 1776, over 100 new countries have announced their existence with a document modeled on the Declaration of Independence.
Part 1: Creating the “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…”
— Declaration of Independence
As related by Mr. Shestokas, although these words are accepted as self-evident in much of the world today, it was not so in 1776 when monarchies were the norm, slavery was legal, and when the accepted truth was that some were born to rule over others. As David further clarified, “with these 55 words Jefferson gave America her creed, a creed built around ideas that are clearly true or self-evident, as the words can be taken for granted. There is no need of proof or explanation.”
Much is owed to Benjamin Franklin for a crucial edit he made to Jefferson’s original words. Jefferson initially wrote “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable…” Franklin changed it to “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
Part 2: Lee’s formal proposal of independence
The middle section of Shestokas’ book joins Richard Henry Lee when formally proposing Independence to the Second Continental Congress, after which Jefferson is assigned to and begins the work on a declaration in support of Lee’s resolution.
The date was June 7, 1776 when Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee offered a resolution that would forever change the course of American and world history. Lee became the first member of Congress to utter “independence” in public, which was considered treason against the King. The penalties included beheading. Members of the Continental Congress knew people who had been beheaded by the British. The year before the personal physician of John Adams and his family, Dr. Joseph Warren, had had his head cut off following the Battle of Bunker Hill.
“Resolved: that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved of from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be totally dissolved.”
— Lee’s resolution
Only John Adams would stand with Lee on June 7, 1776 to provide a second to Lee’s resolution; however, that changed by July 2nd, when the Second Continental Congress voted 12-0 to approve the resolution. A committee to draft the Declaration was formed on June 11,1776 of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson. The writing task fell to Adams and Jefferson, but Adams was able to flatter Jefferson into doing the writing over a couple of beers at Philadelphia’s City Tavern. Among words of flattery Adam told Jefferson: “You can write ten times better than I can.”
In the days following June 13, 1776, Jefferson would proceed to create a timeless document, applying his skills as a lawyer, also knowing that at age 33 he would be placing his head on the chopping block. Jefferson really didn’t wish to be in Philadelphia, but back home in Virginia where he believed there was more important work to be done.
Jefferson proceeded to write the Declaration of Independence by reviewing “declarations” of other people that had overthrown a king, by examining the “American Mind” as expressed in the public acts and writing, and the development of the philosophy of natural law.
Upon its completion, Jefferson had to explain the “common sense” of independence to a varied audience and why it was worth dying for. His success was evident in that more than 20,000 Americans answered the call and died in battle or as prisoners of war.
Part 3: Legal impact of “Declaration” and a key phrase
With the 55 crucial words set forth by Jefferson, already cited and which begin with the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”, the American Creed was established. That creed has allowed millions to become Americans since its adoption in 1776.
Eight other words of note were also penned by Jefferson in order to provide this nation with legal legitimacy, for if the country was to be governed by the “rule of law” and not the “rule of men”, there had to be a law beyond the reach of men. They were as noted below:
The “self-evident” truths in the “Declaration of Independence” grow out of the “the Law of Nature and of Nature’s God…”
Jefferson was able to combine the two sources of Natural Law. The Law of Nature can be observed in a scientific, secular sense, while the Law of Nature’s God is revealed to men in a spiritual, divine sense. It matters not whether a particular individual relies upon scientific observation or revelation from God, as the final conclusion is the same.
In that Jefferson was able use a single sentence to combine both thoughts, speaks of Jefferson’s extraordinary ability to write in a few words what others have taken whole books to explain.
Mr. Shestokas cited the brilliance of the Founding Fathers as encapsulated in the Declaration of Independence. The reason why taking an oath to support the Constitution has no real meaning for many Americans is because the philosophical and legal basis for the Constitution is seldom studied.
As Jefferson would later say in a letter to Henry Lee:
“This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say which had never been said before, but to place before man-kind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent…”
Nevertheless, the idea that all men are created equal was battling 10,000 years of history. As Lincoln said: “Jefferson had set forth a stumbling block to tyranny and oppression.” Lincoln’s observation was renewed by Dr. Martin Luther King in his 1963 “I have a Dream” Speech.
“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men — yes, black men as well as white men — would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
As to adherence to our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution as documents which continue to define our nation, existing today are men who feel they were born to rule over others. During the past few years we have witnessed activities of those who thought they had the duty to alter or to abolish our government, and dethrone our president, to institute a type of government that would benefit their quest for power, for control, and for money.
Unless the Rule of Law is applied equally to those who perpetrated the Russian witch-hunt against President Trump, our Founding documents will become obsolete, and this Great Experiment perceived by our Founding Father, which have served as a beacon of light for many, will have its flames of freedom and liberty snuffed out for a Socialist/Communist form of government.
David Shestokas is an attorney licensed in IL and FL and author of Constitutional Sound Bites.
He earned his B.A. in Political Science from Bradley University and J.D. from The John Marshall Law School, cum laude, while serving on the The John Marshall Law Review. He studied law at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. For Spanish speakers he and Dr. Berta Isabel Arias offer a Spanish language translation of Constitutional Sound Bites: Cápsulas Informativas Constitucionales.
Join Dave’s over 124,000 followers on Twitter. And on Facebook, join the more than 6,700 members of Dave Shestokas on the Constitution and like the pages for David J. Shestokas, Attorney at Law and Constitutionally Speaking.
Nancy J. Thorner is a writer, cellist, and Tea Party activist based in suburban Chicago. Nancy grew up in a suburb of Reading, PA, and graduated from Wilson High School in 1956. Nancy is proud of her Pennsylvania Deutch heritage. Her ancestors came from Germany in 1738 and settled near Philadelphia, Pa. Falling in love with music at an early age, Nancy attended Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA, where in 1960 she received a Bachelor of Science degree (cum laude) in Music Education. In 1964, Nancy was awarded the degree of Master of Education from West Chester State College, West Chester, PA.
Although a staunch conservative Republican all her life, it wasn’t until the mid-90s that Nancy not only realized she could write, but that she also had strong political opinions that needed to be expressed.
Nancy is active in the following organizations: The Heartland Institute, The Illinois Policy Institute, Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, Illinois Family Institute, Family-Pac, Republican Assembly of Lake County, and the Women’s Republican Club of Lake Forest/Lake Bluff. She regularly attends Lakeview Presbyterian Church, PCA.