Few documents have so influenced the course of history as has the American Declaration of Independence, now more than two centuries old. The Founding Fathers seem to have realized, with their usual clairvoyance, that no diplomacy can succeed without representing some intrinsic values, and the great Declaration established a moral basis for American international relations by announcing principles of universal validity. As Abraham Lincoln pointed out, “Our Declaration of Independence meant liberty not alone for the people of this country but hope for all the world for all future time. It means in due course the weight should be lifted from the shoulders of all men.” In the spirit of the Declaration of Independence no other human experience in the last two centuries has been so attractive to liberty-seeking people as the American experiment — called, not without warrant, “the permanent revolution.” In the early years of the Republic, Thomas Paine stated with prophetic vision:
So deeply rooted were all the governments of the old world, and so effectually had the tyranny and the antiquity of habit established itself over the mind, that no beginning could be made in Asia, Africa, or Europe, to reform the political condition of man. Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think.