In honor of John Quincy Adams' birthday today, I thought it would be fitting to post a link, and some words from, his speech of July 4, 1837:
The most celebrated British moralist of the age, Dr. Samuel Johnson, in a controversial tract on the dispute between Britain and her Colonies, had expressly laid down as the basis of his argument, that--"All government is essentially absolute. That in sovereignty there are no gradations. That there may be limited royalty; there may be limited consulship; but there can be no limited government. There must in every society be some power or other from which there is no appeal; which admits no restrictions; which pervades the whole mass of the community; regulates and adjusts all subordination; enacts laws or repeals them; erects or annuls judicatures; extends or contracts privileges; exempts itself from question or control; and bounded only by physical necessity." (Johnson's Taxation no Tyranny)
The Declaration of Independence was founded upon the direct reverse of all these propositions. It did not recognize, but implicitly denied, the unlimited nature of sovereignty. By the affirmation that the principal natural rights of mankind are unalienable, it placed them beyond the reach of organized human power; and by affirming that governments are instituted to secure them, and may and ought to be abolished if they become destructive of those ends, they made all government subordinate to the moral supremacy of the People.
The Declaration itself did not even announce the States as sovereign, but as united, free and independent, and having power to do all acts and things which independent States may of right do. It acknowledged, therefore, a rule of right, paramount to the power of independent States itself, and virtually disclaimed all power to do wrong. This was a novelty in the moral philosophy of nations, and it is the essential point of difference between the system of government announced in the Declaration of Independence, and those systems which had until then prevailed among men. A moral Ruler of the universe, the Governor and Controller of all human power is the only unlimited sovereign acknowledged by the Declaration of Independence; and it claims for the United States of America, when assuming their equal station among the nations of the earth, only the power to do all that may be done of right.