The Declaration of Independence is the foundation document for everything American.
I was sitting in my office last night (July 4), listening to the whistles, booms and bangs of fireworks going off in every direction around the neighborhood. I could not help but wonder how many of the revelers were celebrating the 234th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and how many were celebrating the extra day off from work and the opportunity to set off illegal fireworks without having to worry about being arrested.
It had been a long weekend, with my grand daughter’s wedding on Saturday and Church Services, a picnic and Fourth of July celebration on Sunday, so I really was not in the mood for any deep thinking. However, I did think about a couple of comments I had read or heard on the Internet, radio or TV — I don’t remember which— concerning the Declaration of Independence.
One person was trying to make a point using a quote from the Declaration of Independence, and the other was reminding him that the Declaration was not law. I also heard a radio show a day or so earlier, where a young man was sent out on the streets of Seattle to find out how much the public knew abut Independence Day. Only four out of ten people interviewed knew that the Fourth of July was the celebration of our Independence from Great Britain in 1776.
It seems to me, the Declaration of Independence does not enjoy the place in America’s consciousness it deserves. Few of us recognize that it is the foundation of our Constitution and our form of government. On July 4, 1776, the thirteen colonies became thirteen free, independent and sovereign countries or nation states. The Declaration of Independence declares,
“That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”
The word “united” here refers to their united stand in favor of Independence and their determined resistance to the British Crown. They did not have a united, constituted government until 1781. After declaring Independence, the colonies formed a loose confederation under the Articles of Confederation for mutual defense, keeping the principle of independent and sovereign states set forth in the Declaration. When the Philadelphia Convention met in 1787 for the purpose of amending the Articles to make them more effective and enduring as a governing document, they again kept this fundamental principle of state sovereignty and incorporated it into the Constitution.
The Declaration of Independence serves as the introduction to both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. The Constitution does not introduce any new principles. It simply acknowledges and codifies the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence; sovereignty of the people, sovereignty of the states, equality of birth, and the unalienable rights of life and liberty, are all principles found in the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution incorporates these principles and enshrines them in its seven Articles and the ten Amendments making up the Bill of Rights.
The states did not give up the principle of state sovereignty when they ratified the Constitution. Instead, they emphasized it with the Tenth Amendment, locking into place the limits imposed on the federal government by Section Eight of Article I in the Constitution. Few decisions in history have contributed more to the chaos and dilemmas found in today’s government, than the deliberate, incremental decisions to usurp state sovereignty and meld the states into the consolidated national government we have today. Unless stopped, the federal government will continue to consolidate and build its power until the American people are transformed into subjects, and no longer liberated citizens of a free state.