The signing of the Declaration of Independence was one of the most illegal things the Founding Fathers did. It was high treason against the government. Yet, we believe the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence was inspired by God. How could God support this when it clearly goes against His standard to honor, obey, and sustain the law?
Great question, Brad. And its answer lies in that very document you mention: The Declaration of Independence. In the opening paragraph, the “thirteen united States” set out their own duty to justify their actions:
When in the Course of human events it becomes 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, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
The next paragraph then does exactly that, telling why the colonists are rebelling:
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, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, 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.
The authors (Thomas Jefferson, with help from Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and others) then declare exactly why their actions are something other than base treachery:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all 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. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
The authors then list their reasons that, in their view, justify “throw[ing] off such Government”.
Obviously, anyone who rebels or commits an illegal act will try to justify himself. But history has proven these words truthful and has justified their authors as men of integrity and principle. Modern revelation seems to support this general view, at least to the point of justifying the actions of the colonists in rebelling against King George III and supporting a new government under General George Washington. Consider Doctrine and Covenants 101: 76-80, especially the last verse:
And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.
It might also be helpful to ask why God asks us to honor, obey and sustain the law. I believe it’s because government is important, without it we quickly descend in to anarchy.
However, how we are governed is also important. George Washington is reported to have said that government is like a fire, it can warm you or it can burn down your house.
We see in Mosiah 29, in the Book of Mormon, a warning about the dangers of an unrighteous king. Was King George a righteous king? In the War in Heaven we fought for the opportunity to have agency, to make choices. Should God allow that his children be denied that opportunity here on earth because of an unrighteous government?
Remember God’s ways transcend man’s ways. God’s laws transcend man’s laws. The Founding Fathers were inspired to commit treason because the Lord needed a land that was free for the gospel to be established. Helmuth Hubener was an LDS youth who fought against Hitler. Was he wrong to do that? He was excommunicated (and later rebaptized posthumously.) Yes we believe in keeping the laws of the land, but sometimes the Lord makes exceptions to bring forth His righteousness, as we see in the case of the Founding Fathers.
I think we are safe in concluding that the United States’ Founding Fathers were no mere power-hungry separatists, and that their cause was in fact just.
Staying true to the red, white, and blue,