March 08, 2022

True Causes to Alter or Abolish Governments

by Professor Robert J. Barth

True Causes to Alter or Abolish Governments

The colonial representatives who met in 1776 took very seriously the deliberations on their future relationship with Great Britain. To declare the colonies as “free and independent states,” required valid legal justifications, not mere disagreements regarding policies and trade. Without legitimate reasons to separate, the political resistance would be deemed rebellion with little chance of success. The colonists knew that without the blessings of “Divine Providence” they would never defeat the strong and well-organized military forces of Great Britain.  

The governmental relationship with Britain existed for more than 150 years and the founders acknowledged in the Declaration that “governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.”  And, “experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” It is hard for us to comprehend the magnitude of the decision facing the colonial leaders. To declare separation meant war and much bloodshed. To comply meant loss of true freedoms and subjection to exploitation and tyranny.

Even though the colonists appealed to King George III to address their claims under the “rights of Englishmen,” the king ignored their repeated pleas. In fact, in 1775 after the skirmish at Bunker Hill, King George issued a “Proclamation of Rebellion” against the colonists. After this action by the king, the colonists had only two choices: either to defend themselves seeking independence and freedom, or to submit to tyrannical rule and bondage.

Failing to have their grievances as Englishmen addressed, the colonists’ asserted their rights as humans under the laws of nature and of nature’s God to justify their cause against Britain. In addition, they pronounced, “a descent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation” and included a long list of “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over the states.”  Included in the list of offenses was King George “waging war” against the colonists.

The Declaration of Independence proclaimed a revolution based upon law and truth. It was not a revolution based upon the “will of the people” and raw power fueled by a false antinomian view of liberty.  The philosophy of government embedded in the Declaration along with the stated abuses of power, gave the colonists legal grounds to separate from Great Britain and to create a new nation. It became “necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”

The new “free and independent states” then implemented this philosophy of government into constitutions with structures and safeguards to hopefully protect against future abuses of power.


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About the Author

Professor Robert J. Barth
A graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S. 1976), Professor Robert J. Barth received his Juris Doctor from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 1979. He received his Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Regent University in 1986. From 1986 to 1995, Professor Barth was associated with Regent University School of Law in several capacities, including assistant dean for academic and student affairs, and editor of the Journal of Christian Jurisprudence. He has written several articles, and as the director for academic programs, he has authored Oak Brook College’s book, Renewing Your Mind as You Study Law.


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