The Authority of the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

What was that phrase the founders used to describe the source of our liberty and our nation’s political foundation? “The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

David Barton and Rick Green recently (Aug. 7) discussed this on Wallbuilders Live, and it was a show every American should hear.

If you’ve ever discussed the legal foundations of our nation with a liberal, you have almost certainly heard them claim that the Declaration of Independence means nothing whatsoever in 2014. Of course, they’d like very much to make the same claim for the U.S. Constitution, but there are still too many people who know too much (however little that “too much” may be) for them to get away with that whopper. But most people don’t know how to deal with the liberal protest that, although the Declaration of Independence clearly states that our rights come from God (not government, not the majority, not poll results, etc.), that doesn’t really mean anything because (in their minds) the Declaration of Independence was written before the U.S. Constitution.

What few Americans on either side of the ideological aisle know is that YES, the Declaration of Independence IS a part of our laws. In fact, you will find in the United States Code (our nation’s law database). Our nation’s organic laws are listed first, and the Declaration of Independence is first among them. It doesn’t get much more foundational than that (except perhaps the Bible, which is the document from which the founders gained the understanding that ” all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”).

As important as this fact is, this is not the only proof that if we are under the United States Constitution (and we are, despite the loathing of the Left), we are also under the Declaration of Independence. As Barton and Green discussed on Wallbuilders Live:

  1. 1. Article VII of the U.S. Constitution dates itself not only based on the Christian calendar (“in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven“-icky to Leftists dedicated to the fantasy of government divorced from God) but dates itself back to the Declaration of Independence:
    1. done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independance of the United States of America the Twelfth
    2. Presidential acts (even those signed by President Barack Obama, who loathes our nation’s foundation like no president before him) are still to this day dated “in the Year of our Lord” as well as the year of our nation’s independence.
  2. The enabling acts of the states testify to this. Enabling acts are the acts by which territories became states, and they set forth the conditions under which a territory may become a state. States are required constitutionally to implement a republican form of government (sorry, no dictatorships, politburos or oligarchies allowed). Their form of government also “shall not be repugnant to the Constitution of the United States and the principles of the Declaration of Independence.” Notice that the states are required to be in compliance with not only the U.S. Constitution, but the Declaration of Independence. Examples: Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota.
  3. The U.S. Constitution cannot be understood without the Declaration of Independence. In other words, many key parts of the U.S. Constitution are corollaries (i.e. they answer) to the grievances or problems brought up in the Declaration of Independence.
    1. Article 1 Section 5 where it says “Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting,” this cures or answers the fourth problem or grievance raised in the Declaration of Independence which said: “He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.”  In other words, why does our constitution do what it does?  Because of the problems (or abuses against our God-given rights endowed upon us by the aforementioned Creator) identified in the Declaration.  You cannot understand the meaning and intent of the Constitution without the context of the Declaration.
    2. Grievance 5 and 6 of the Declaration are answered by Article 1 Section 4 of the Constitution
    3. Grievance 7 of the Declaration is resolved by Article 1 Section 8 paragraph 4
    4. Grievance 8 of the Declaration is answered by Article 1 Section 8 paragraph 9.

So since the Declaration of Independence is the original source document from which all other U.S. laws (including the Constitution) get their authority, from where does the Declaration get its authority?  Remember, it already told us: The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God (sorry, God-haters).

So what is “natural law”? As Sir William Blackstone said, it is basically God’s moral law for humanity:

Man depends absolutely upon his Maker for everything, it is necessary that he should, in all points, conform to his Maker’s will. This will of his Maker is called the law of nature. This law of nature…dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.

Sir Edward Coke described it similarly:

The law of nature is that which God at the time of creation of the nature of man infused into his heart, for his preservation and direction…the moral law, called also the law of nature.

Natural law takes precedent over all other law. As Blackstone further elaborated:

Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these. There are, it is true, a great number of indifferent points, in which both the divine law and the natural leave a man at his own liberty; but which are found necessary for the benefit of society to be restrained within certain limits. And herein it is that human laws have their greatest force and efficacy: for, with regard to such points as are not indifferent, human laws are only declaratory of, and act in subordination to the former. To instance in the case of murder: this is expressly forbidden by the divine, and demonstrably by the natural law; and from these prohibitions arises the true unlawfulness of this crime. Those human laws that annex a punishment to it do not at all increase its moral guilt, or add any fresh obligation in foro conscientiae (in the court of conscience) to abstain from its perpetration. Nay, if any human law should allow or enjoin us to commit it, we, are bound to transgress that human law, or else we must offend both the natural and the divine. But with regard to matters that are in themselves indifferent, and are not commanded or forbidden by those superior laws; such, for instance, as exporting of wool into foreign countries; here the inferior legislature has scope and opportunity to interpose, and to make that action unlawful which before was not so.

If you’re a God-hating Leftist, no one is forcing you to believe in God because of this truth, and you don’t have to like this reality…but you aren’t entitled to pretend it isn’t reality.  And if you insist that our nation’s foundation should go…well, you invite what would naturally come if you tried to yank the foundation out from under any structure.

Our natural rights come directly from God (our Creator) and were endowed to us before government was instituted.  I know it’s icky for God-haters to consider, but according to that Bible which most of the founders believed in (from which they also recognized those same “inalienable rights”), there was a time when (gasp) there was no government.  Even before there was government, human beings were endowed by their Creator with the right to speak their mind, to defend themselves, etc. Government didn’t give them those rights; their Creator did, as the Declaration of Independence acknowledges.

Our U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of our nation (contrary to the contempt shown toward it by liberals).  It’s foundation and the organic law which precedes it is the Declaration of Independence. The foundation of the Declaration of Independence, as the Declaration itself states, is natural law.

So it should be clear to any rational person that the Declaration of Independence is relevant, binding and in force in the United States.

As John Quincy Adams (son of founder John Adams) said on the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of our nation’s first constitutional president:

The revolution itself was a work of thirteen years - and had never been completed until that day. The Declaration of independence and the Constitution of the United States, are parts of one consistent whole, founded upon one and the same theory of government, then new, not as a theory, for it had been working itself into the mind of man for many ages, and been especially expounded in the writings of Locke, but had never before been adopted by a great nation in practice.

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Bob Ellis has been the owner of media company Dakota Voice, LLC since 2005. He is a 10-year U.S. Air Force veteran, a political reporter and commentator for the past decade, and has been involved in numerous election and public policy campaigns for over 20 years. He was a founding member and board member of the Tea Party groups Citizens for Liberty and the South Dakota Tea Party Alliance. He lives in Rapid City, South Dakota with his wife and two children.
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