A Case for Declarationism

By Mateo Portelli, Contributor and Editor

Contributor’s Note: I am a Declarationist, I’d like to say, and as such am biased. This article will act as an introduction to the political philosophy of Declarationism. However, it shall include parts of my opinion of jurisprudence and the philosophy of governance, which does not necessarily reflect the opinions or stances of any contributor or editor of the Next Generation Politics, Next Generation Politics Blog, or any other member of any other organization or entity. Also, any use of the capitalized word Man or Men obviously does not reference solely men — it is to mean Mankind or all of humanity. I’m just lazy in that regard, and I think it gets my point across. And yes, I do cite Wikipedia, not just because I’m lazy, but because I believe the links contained within are meant to give context, not strict college-research-paper-level information. Please enjoy.

All Men are created equal … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights

 

The Preamble of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, 1776


Declarationism: A Politico-Legal Philosophy

Maybe you don’t love history class. But if you’re anything like me, you may be able to recite almost verbatim America’s founding documents… which is a skill few neither want nor need. Nevertheless, I must say that when I stumbled across this philosophy, my heart skipped a beat. I’m a complete freak for the United States Constitution — I mean, I do have a tie with the text of the Constitution upon it — but I must say, I’ve always felt a certain admiration for the Declaration of Independence. After taking my oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Nevada, I was bound then more than ever to the founding document framing our government. However, beyond the Preamble of the Constitution, nowhere in that document does it express the nature and justification of American governance. Now, I had always thought that the Declaration was of serious import, no doubt about that. But it wasn’t until I was researching the Constitution and the American Revolution (as all 16-year-olds do) that I learned about Declarationism.

An “Abridged” Timeline in the Formation of America

Created by Mateo Portelli

As shown by this nifty, 15-node flowchart, I think it can be agreed that the Declaration of Independence is pretty important as to the foundation of America. In effect, America has been identified as British from 1607 to 1750, at which time the colonies began intercolonial trading. From that point on, a sense of a national identity began to grow and led to the adoption of certain principles and rights to be attributed to the British citizens of America, particularly the principle of “No Taxation Without Representation”. The Albany Congress was the first united body of America — in which seven of the 13 British Colonies met to discuss the promotion of better relations with the Native American tribes, along with common defensive measures against the French-Canadian threat. And they did their job in preventing a war with the Indians and French — until, y’know. The French and Indian War.

Now, post-French-and-Indian-War, the British Parliament, in all its debt-filled wisdom, decided to impose taxes upon the colonists of America, without their consent, to pay off the debt from the war. Now, this led to the First Congress of the American Colonies, or more commonly known as the Stamp Act Congress. The First Congress came together to form a united protest against the new British Stamp Act, which was… intense, to say the least. (Think of something, anything, made of paper. It was taxed, I promise you.) Now, after the repeal of the Stamp Act, there was a bit more drama, and eventually, the American colonies came together except Rhode Island because they were too cool for school to form the First Continental Congress… meaning there were three First American Congresses… not including the Congress of the Confederacy? And then the First Congress of the United States, so really, there were five First American Congresses. Anyways.

The First Continental Congress [1774] was formed in response to the Coercive Acts, or known as the Intolerable Acts to the Americans. These were, as the title implied, coercive and intolerable, as they blatantly stripped the Americans of their many liberties. This body actually enforced two things: Firstly, a boycott on all importation and exportation of British goods; and secondly, the Declaration of Colonial Rights, which is actually a good precursor to the Declaration of Independence, and it seems quite clear that Thomas Jefferson took some inspiration from the Declaration of Rights. However, there were fears, which became evidently valid, that their peaceful efforts and petitions failed, they formed the Second Continental Congress.

Put on your aviator shades, ladies and gentlemen, because welcome to the United States of America — almost. The Second Continental Congress [1775-1781] was the convention of delegates from all Thirteen Colonies of British America. Many acts came from this body, such as the Olive Branch Petition to the Parliament, along with the adoption of a new Continental Army, which became the United States Army. But perhaps most amazing of all other efforts were two-fold. Firstly, the Resolution for Independence — also known as the Lee Resolution, as it was proposed by Richard Lee of Virginia — was the resolution of the Continental Congress that formally and legally incorporated the United States of America. The text of the resolution, which was proposed by Lee and seconded by John Adams, is below:

Resolved, 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;

 

That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances;

 

That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

The Resolution for Independence, Richard Lee, 1776

Now isn’t that just lovely? The Resolution for Independence was put forth on Friday, the 7th of June, 1776, with discussion set to be had the next day on Saturday the 8th of June. On the 10th of June, Congress postponed the first clause of the resolution for three weeks, along with establishing the Committee of Five write a public declaration — the Declaration of Independence. On the 28th of June, the Committee of Five presented the Declaration of Independence to the Congress, and it was ordered “to lie on the table.” On the 1st of July, the Congress began debate on the Lee Resolution. On the 2nd of July, the Congress passed the resolution, thus creating the United States. It then moved towards the consideration of the Declaration of Independence, which continued for two days, until the 4th of July, when the Congress approved the Declaration of Independence.

Boo yeah! The United States (actually, the “united States”) is now real, baby! I mean, sort of. Then the war continued, and France and Spain got into the fun, and 7 years, 8 countries, and 240,000+ deaths later, we had the Treaty of Paris of 1783, and the United States of America was formally recognized by Great Britain. Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of organic law.

What is the Supreme Law of the Land?

Allow me to explain to you just what Declarationism is: The politico-legal philosophy that holds the Declaration of Independence as the foundational Constitutional document of the United States of America, granting legitimacy to all forms of governance to America, and thereby being held higher in judicial authority and moral standing than the Constitution of the United States.

Okay. So that was a bit, no? After all, how could anyone believe this? One may say, “Oh, Mateo, you’re so wrong. The Constitution is the supreme Law of the land! Article VI, Clause 2, the Supremacy Clause, clearly outlines this!” Well, let’s look at Clause 2 of the Article VI:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution

So that’s a bit old-timey, don’t you think? How about we try to translate it to more modern-day vernacular:

The Constitution, and all Laws of the United States, which shall be pursuant to this Constitution, as well as all Treaties made now or those which will be made in the future in the name of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the United States; and the Judges in every State shall be bound to the Constitution, regardless whatever the Constitution or Laws of that state says.

Mateo’s translation of Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution

So, the clause outlines 5 things:

  • The Constitution is the supreme Law of the United States
  • All Laws of the United States shall be made in accordance with the Constitution
  • All Treaties made before the adoption of the Constitution or those made afterward shall be pursuant to the Constitution
  • All Judges of the United States shall be bound by the Constitution
  • The Constitution’s authority overrides the authorities of the states’ separate constitutions or laws

In a sense, one would be correct in arguing that the Constitution is indeed the supreme Law of the land, but it all comes down to what you mean by supreme Law. If you mean supreme Law to mean the apex of all legislation, then in a way you are correct. If you mean supreme Law as the greatest form of codification of authority, yes, you are absolutely correct. All government officials are, after all, bound by an oath to God or affirmation on honor to support and defend the Constitution.

I want you to take a second to reread the last sentence of the previous paragraph. What is the Constitution? It enumerates the authority of the “United States,” and perhaps more importantly, restricts the federal government’s authority. It is intended to protect the People of the United States by expressing and constricting the power of the government. It’s the framing document of the government — the source from which authority of government officials and bodies is derived. But, where does the Constitution derive its authority? Who said that the federal government is legitimate, and why are you at all obligated to respect the authority of the federal government? Are you even obligated to respect the government — perhaps they should respect you!

What is Government?

The title of the Declaration of Independence is actually “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, in CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.” The title is pretty self-explanatory, no? I’d like to go down the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, and perhaps shed some light about what it actually is: A declaration of the rights of all Peoples and the sole document that grants legitimacy to the Constitution of the United States.

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 Introduction to the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, 1776

Now I put in bold the base clause of this sentence, but I’d like to translate this sentence once again:

When stuff so bad Happens, that a people need to declare independence, and assuming that Natural Law allows for the right of the people to actually declare independence, the People should explain why they are declaring independence, so as not to leave for no reason at all.

Mateo’s Introduction to the Declaration of Independence, 2018

In effect, that’s pretty self-explanatory. The introduction sentence simply expresses that if you are going to declare independence, do it for good reason, and explain why you are going to do so. Let’s move onto the Preamble:

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.

Preamble of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, 1776

And a subsequent Mateo-esque translation:

We believe that the following are self-evident and thus True: All People are created equal; All People are endowed by Natural Law with certain Rights which cannot be alienated; Among these certain and unalienable Rights are the Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness; In order to secure these Rights, Government is created of, by, and for the People; The Powers and legitimacy of that Government comes from the consent of the People who are governed; Whenever Government, regardless of the type, starts to act contrary to the goal of the security of the Rights of the People, the People have the right to alter to completely abolish their previous form of government, and to reestablish new government so that their Rights may be secured.

Mateo’s Preamble of the Declaration of Independence, 2018

Roger Pilon, the Cato Institute‘s vice president for legal affairs and director of its Center for Constitutional Studies, beautifully called that sentence, that I just translated, the Cardinal Moral Truths, and I happen to adore that title for this part of the preamble. So, here is an itemized list of the Cardinal Moral Truths in the Declaration of Independence:

  • All People are created equal
    • No race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, or nationality is superior to any other. All people are equal, and as such, no one person has right to govern over another person.
  • All People are endowed equally by Natural Law certain, unalienable Rights
    • What Natural Law is specifically has been disputed for many… centuries. However, a universal definition that can be agreed upon is that it is the Law that is fundamental to the very nature of Man, and as such, transcends all authority created by Man, or political law. Whereas political law changes at the whim of those in power, Natural Law is immobile and unchanging, and only through its discovery and use does Man institute through political means justice, fairness, and equality.
    • These Rights are certain, meaning they are definite and unalterable. They are not bestowed by government, but rather it is the pursuit of government to protect these rights.
    • These Rights are unalienable, meaning that because they are not bestowed by government, and as such are not subject to the whim of rulers, they cannot be stripped away from the People. However, that does not mean that a person cannot alienate himself of his rights. That’s the reason we have a justice system, and more importantly prison. If you kill someone, you no longer have your right to liberty, and as such, the rest of society is entitled to remove you from their society for their common right to defense of the Lives, Liberties, and Pursuits of Happiness.
  • Among these certain, unalienable Rights of the People are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
    • Rights are moral entitlements. There is a distinction between a legal privilege and a moral entitlement — where a legal privilege (such as the Right to Representation in Government or the Right to an Attorney for Representation in a Tribunal) may be revoked by the laws of the land — even the supreme Law of the Land — moral entitlements are intrinsic to the nature of Man, and thus cannot be alienated externally.
    • The Right to Life is an entitlement to continue living and not to be killed by another person.
    • The Right to Liberty is an entitlement to free action, thought, belief, and speech, both of expression and self-determination.
    • The Right to the Pursuit of Happiness is an entitlement to pursue whatever one believes that his own happiness is. This can mean that someone has the right to freely engage voluntarily with other people to further one’s own happiness, or it can mean that someone can live as a hermit away from society. Whatever Happiness is to a person, they are entitled to Pursue it. This is not to mean that they are entitled to Happiness. If they were, then, well, socialism may actually work. But it is exactly because Man is free to pursue different interests and that he can have independent thought and that we are not all clones that the mentality of equalization under a unity authority is flawed. It is far better, then, to treat everyone as equal in moral standing already, and thereby simply pursue Justice, not equity. Mateo’s mini-rant about socialism is over.
    • The word Among in this clause is interesting. It expresses that the certain, unalienable Rights of Man go beyond these three. However, perhaps because the Common Law system of justice has been perverted from its original path, that we do not know what indeed the rest of the Rights of Man are. Nevertheless, I like to name the Right to Life as the WHAT of Morality, the Right to Liberty as the HOW, and the Right to the Pursuit of one’s own Happiness as the WHY.
  • In order to secure these certain, unalienable Rights of the People, Government is established of, by, and for the People to secure their Rights
    • In order to secure the aforementioned Rights, Man creates Government. Therefore, the purpose of Government is the maintenance of the security and respect for the People’s Rights to Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness
  • The Powers and legitimacy of the Government of, by, and for the People are derived from the consent of the People
    • The government doesn’t exist as a body superior to the People. Government is made up of People who voluntarily consent to its formation and execution of duties. Because of this, any claim of authority that is contrary to the will of the People is necessarily invalid and thereby null and void. If the People do not consent to an act of Government, then that act of Government has absolutely zero authority. Similarly, if the People do not consent to the existence or legitimacy of a form of Government, then that Government has absolutely zero legitimate foundation. A Government solely exists when the People says it does.
  • Whenever any form of Government acts contrary to its original intent of the security of the Rights of the People, it is within the People’s Right to alter or totally abolish that form of Government, and replace it with a new form of Government with the original intent.
    • Whenever a form of government fails to secure the Rights of the People, and when those in Government begin to act contrary to their moral obligation of the security of the Rights of Man, and when those in Government begin to actually violate the Rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness of the People, then it is within the Right of the People to alter the Powers of that government, or to totally and wholly abolish and replace that government. The despotism that they abolish shall then be replaced by a Government that is predicated upon the principle, once again, of the preservation of the Rights of the People, and shall have authority and legitimacy only to the limits of what the People consent to.

So. Clear? Good. Those are the Cardinal Moral Truths upon which the United States was founded. The United States of America is indeed just that — a Union of states, within America (not including Hawaii).

So What Is Mateo Talking About?

Y’know, if I had a nickel for every time someone asked me, “What are you talking about?” I would have, something like $3.00. That sounded far cooler in my head… Regardless, allow me to explain why I am of the opinion and belief that in terms of organic law and authority, the Declaration of Independence is superior to that of the Constitution of the United States.

  • The Country and its Government are not the same things.
    • A Country has a government. A government is beholden to the People of a Country. This is very simple. The United States’ Government may be called “The United States,” but that does not mean that America is the same as the United States — if anything, the simple name of “The United States of America” outlines that America is grammatically possessive of The United States.
    • Because the Country and its government are separate, the People are superior to a government. Because of this, it is incorrect to say that because the Constitution is the supreme Law of the Land that it then transcends the authority of the People and by logical extension, of the Cardinal Moral Truths.
  • The Declaration of Independence preceded the Constitution of the United States and indeed legitimized the creation of the United States.
    • The Declaration of Independence outlines the legitimization of governance through the Cardinal Moral Truths! Therefore, you cannot have the Constitution of the United States, or even the United States as a government, without the Declaration of Independence. It’s akin to saying that while the Constitution may be the supporting pillars of the building that is the United States, the Declaration of Independence is the foundation upon which the pillars are predicated.
  • The Cardinal Moral Truths outlines the Rights of the People as identified by Natural Law. It is a recognition of Rights.
    • The Cardinal Moral Truths empowers man. Man authorizes the government of a nation. Therefore, the Cardinal Moral Truths are a prerequisite to the legitimacy of any government, including the United States.
  • The Constitution of the United States outlines the Powers of the Government. It is a restriction of government officials’ Powers.
    • The Constitution restricts man — more specifically, government officials. The Constitution authorizes government officials. Therefore, the Constitution and all contents contained therein only apply to the government officials, and due to the fact that government is predicated upon the consent of the governed, the Constitution has zero authority of the People does not recognize its legitimacy.
    • Article VI, Clause 3 of the Constitution mandates that Senators, Representatives, State Assemblypersons, executive officers, and judicial officers shall all be bound by oath or affirmation to support and defend the Constitution. It does not say that the People of the United States are obligated to the Constitution, only reaffirming the point that the Constitution solely relates to the Government of the People, and not to the People.
    • Amendment I of the Constitution begins with, “Congress shall make no law…” relating to the legislative branch of the government.
    • Amendment II of the Constitution expresses that, “The Right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” relating to the whole government.
    • Amendment III of the Constitution beings with, “No Soldier shall…” relating to the armed forces of the government.
    • Amendment IV of the Constitution expresses that, “The Right of the People to be secure … shall not be violated” relating to the whole government.
    • Amendment V of the Constitution upholds the jurisprudence principle of innocence until guilt proven, and thus restricting the judicial branch of the government.
    • Amendment VI of the Constitution lays down efficiency standards for trials within the United States, and thus relating to the judicial branch of government.
    • Amendment VII of the Constitution directs the authority and scope of juries and civil trials and the greatest authority on the issue of criminal guilt or civil liability, and thus relating to the judicial branch of government.
    • Amendment VIII of the Constitution directly restricts the imposition of cruel or unusual punishment upon criminals within the United States, and thus directly restricting the judicial branch of government.
    • Amendment IX of the Constitution expresses that nothing within the Constitution may be read to restrict any other Rights of the People.
    • Amendment X of the Constitution directly restricts the Powers of the federal government, reserving all powers not expressly delegated to the federal government to the authority of the States and of the People.
  • The Constitution recognizes the Cardinal Moral Truths are existing independent of the Constitution.
    • Article V of the Constitution outlines the way through which the Constitution may be amended, thus reaffirming the Right of the People to Alter their form and manner of governance.
    • Article VII, Clause 2 of the Constitution expresses that the Constitution is ratified “in the Year of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth.” The Constitution itself recognizes the Independence of America as such a pivotal event that it sets it as a dating method!
    • Amendment II of the Constitution holds the Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms for the security of a free state as existing independently of the Constitution itself. This affirms the Right to Self-Preservation.
    • Amendment IV of the Constitution holds the Right of the People to be secure from unreasonable search as existing independently of the Constitution itself. This affirms the Right to Security.
    • Amendments V and XIV of the Constitution holds the Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property as independent of the Constitution itself. This directly affirms the Cardinal Moral Truths.
    • Amendment IX of the Constitution holds that the Rights of the People extend beyond that of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. This directly affirms the Cardinal Moral Truths.

Why does this Matter?

Do you know what the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States expresses? Can you recite it from memory? Do you even care? Why would you care? Why do I continue to ask so many questions?

You are a human being I hope, and as such, you happen to be in the unique position of having free will, cognitive functions, and the capacity to understand metaphysics and ethics, and by culmination, morality. It is a difficult thing, apathy. My first article actually expressed the difficulty I have with political apathy amongst the youth of America. However, I can submit these questions to you, and perhaps you yourself can formulate the answer as to why any of this matters:

What do you want?

Do you want to be happy?

Do you want to pursue your own happiness?

Can anyone pursue your happiness for you?

I submit that no one knows your life like you do. Because of that, you are the only person qualified, both practically, ethically, and morally to guide your own Life. To that end, you are then entitled to a Life in which you have the Liberty to Pursue whatever you deem is Happiness. Society does not exist — not in the idea as we think of it. Society is nothing more than the collection of individuals interacting with one another, but society has no goals. Society has no opinion, no motive, no actions. Societies solely do that which its constituents do. For this reason, what you do matters. I hear so, so often that we are insignificant. And aside from how self-defeating and astonishingly false that is, I simply say this to you: If you want to live a life of liberty, then you must secure the same for your neighbor. The quote from President Kennedy is similar to what I mean to say, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” But it’s deeper than that. No, ask not what your neighbor must do for you — ask what you must do for your neighbor. We are only as free and prosperous as our neighbors, and if we wish to honor our predecessors and if we wish to secure prosperity and liberty for our Posterity, then we must begin to think long and hard about what it means to be free. We the People have a duty to ourselves to respect ourselves enough to ask, “Are we free?”

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

Benjamin Franklin

 

The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of Patriots and Tyrants.

Thomas Jefferson

 

Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace! But there is no peace. The war is actually begun! … Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Patrick Henry

Well? Are you Free?


Thank you so much for reading my second article! Any and all comments are greatly appreciated, so please, send me a message. I’m always open to free discussion and debate about anything I put forth into the public forum.