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What is the Right of Revolution?

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes...

The Declaration of Independence, 1776

The "right of revolution" is a fundamental right. It is the foundation of consent of the governed. It is the guarantee that you can take matters into your own hands if you must.

We say "if you must," because the right of revolution is not easy to exercise. It means that the law stops working, and new law has to be made. It often means war.

The American Revolutionary War lasted more than seven years. The cost in lives and property was high. The suffering and disruption reached civilians as well as soldiers. Families lost their farms or businesses. Soldiers lost their lives, some of them after suffering terrible wounds, others by starvation and disease. Many of the signers of the Declaration were themselves killed, or imprisoned, or deprived of their property. They pledged "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor." Many of them vindicated that pledge in blood.

Yet, once they were convinced that England intended to "reduce them under absolute despotism," the Founders believed that they had no choice but to exercise their right of revolution. The Declaration says that in those circumstances, a revolution is more than a right. It is a Duty.

The fact that our rights are unalienable means something more, merely than that we are born with them, or that we cannot give them away. It means also that if we fail to defend our rights, we dishonor ourselves. The price of liberty is high. To fail to pay that price is a great wrong.