The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States

The Declaration of Independence

  • When it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them to another, and to assume the power and station to which they are entitled by the laws of God and Nature, they ought to declare the causes which impel them to make that separation.
  • These truths are self-evident: 1) all men are created equal; 2) all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, such as Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; 3) to secure these rights, governments are instituted, and derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; 4) people have the right to alter or abolish their government whenever it becomes destructive to the aforementioned rights and goals of safety and happiness.
  • Long-established governments should not be changed for light and transient causes. Indeed, mankind is more disposed to suffer evils, while the evils are tolerable, than to abolish the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations clearly demonstrate a design to reduce a people under absolute despotism, then the people have a duty to subvert such government, and provide new guards for their future security.
  • Such are the circumstances faced by the thirteen colonies. The abuses and usurpations of the King of Great Britain have as their direct object the establishment of absolute Tyranny over the states. Jefferson then enumerates the states’ grievances against the king. A few include: he has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, he has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records with the design of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures, and imposing taxes upon them without their consent.
  • The states have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms, but have been answered only by repeated injury.
  • The states have warned their British brethren of attempts by their legislature to extend an unjustifiable jurisdiction over them. They have appealed to the British populace to disavow the actions of the King, but they have disregarded the states’ appeals. Therefore, the states hold them as enemies in war.
  • Therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America solemnly publish and declare that these colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states.
  • The Declaration of Independence is signed by 56 men.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

The Declaration of Independence contains similar language and ideas asserted by John Locke in his Second Treatise Concerning Civil Government. Jefferson writes that all men are created equal with certain inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is nearly word for word the sentiment expressed by John Locke. Locke, however, does not mention the pursuit of happiness. He uses the words life, liberty, health, and property.

Jefferson also writes that it is a country’s duty to alter or abolish their government whenever that government becomes destructive to the rights and goals of society. Similarly, Locke justifies revolution whenever a government fails to perform the duty for which it was established; the protection of its people, and the preservation of their property.

I laughed when I read Jefferson’s description of the King of Great Britain. He writes that the King is a Tyrant; unworthy to be the head of a civilized nation. If the Declaration was written by a modern American, I would not be astonished if he wrote that the King is a faggot. The level of sophistication, even when insulting another person, has significantly declined since the 18th century.

The Constitution of the United States

  • “We the People  of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
  • Article 1
    • All legislative powers shall be vested in a Congress, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
    • The people of the several states shall elect members of the House of Representatives every two years. A Representative must be at least 25 years old, a citizen of the US for at least 7 years, and an inhabitant of the State in which he shall be chosen. Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons three fifths of all other persons, excluding Indians not taxed. The actual enumeration shall be made every 10 years. The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at least one representative. When vacancies happen in the representation of a state, the executive power thereof shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies. The House shall choose their Speaker and other officers, and shall have the sole power of impeachment.
    • The senate shall be composed of two senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof for 6 years, and each senator shall have one vote (now chosen by the people). They shall be divided equally as may be into three classes. The seats of the senators of the first class shall be vacated after 2 years, the second class at the expiration of 4 years, and the third class at the expiration of 6 years, so that one third may be chosen every second year. Senators must be at least 30 years old, a citizen of the US for at least 9 years, and an inhabitant of the State for which he shall be chosen. The VP of the US shall be president of the Senate, but shall have no vote unless they be equally divided. The Senate shall choose their officers, and a president pro tempore, in the absence of the VP, or when he shall exercise the office of POTUS. The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When the POTUS is tried, the chief justice shall preside: and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of 2/3 of the members present. Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than removal from office, and disqualification to hold any office of government in the future, but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment, according to law.
    • The time, manner, and places of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed by the legislature thereof, but the congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the place of choosing senators. The congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall be on the first Monday of December (now the 3d of January).
    • Each house shall be judge of the election, returns, and qualifications of its members. A majority shall constitute a quorum to do business. A smaller number may adjourn from day to day. Each house is authorized to compel the attendance of absent member in such manner, and under such penalties s each house may provide. Each house may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members, an with the concurrence of 2/3, expel a member. Each house shall keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such parts as may in their judgment require secrecy. The yeas and nays on any questions shall be entered into the journal at the desire of 1/5 of those present. Neither house, during the session of congress, shall adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other place than that in which the two houses shall be sitting.
    • The Senators and Representatives shall receive compensation as determined by law, and paid out of the treasury of the US. They shall in all cases but treason, felony, and breach of the peace be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective houses, and in going to and returning from the same; they shall not be questioned for any speech or debate given in either house. No senator or representative shall be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the US during the time for which he is elected. No person holding any office under the US shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office.
    • All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the house of rep; but the senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills. Every bill which shall have passed the house and senate shall, before it become a law, be presented to the POTUS. If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it with his objections to the house in which it originated, who shall enter the objections in their journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If two thirds of that house shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent with the objections to the other house, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that house, it shall become law. If any bill shall not be returned by the president within 10 days of receiving it (Sundays excepted), the bill shall become law as if the president had signed it, unless the congress by their adjournment prevents its return, in which case it shall not be a law.
    • The congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the US; but all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the US. Congress shall have the power to borrow money on the credit of the US, regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states, establish uniform rules of naturalization and bankruptcy, coin money, regulate the value of money, fix the standards of weight and measures, provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the money of the US, establish post offices and roads, issue patents, constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court, define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal (authorizing citizens to seize the possessions of foreign citizens, often on the high seas), raise and support armies, provide and maintain a navy, provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions, exercise exclusive legislation over Washington DC.
    • The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless the public safety may require during rebellion or invasion. No Bill of Attainder (act of a legislature declaring a person or persons guilty of some crime and punishing them without a trial) or ex post facto law shall be passed. No poll tax shall be laid. No tax or levy shall be laid on articles exported from a state. No preference shall be given by the regulation of commerce and revenue to the ports of one state over another; nor shall vessels from one state be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties in another. No title of nobility shall be granted by the US.
    • No state shall perform the acts designated to the legislature and explicitly prohibited in the preceding sections of this article.

The preamble of the Constitution of the US expresses the reasons for ordaining and establishing the document. The reasons consist of attaining the goals of forming a civil society according to John Locke: to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the general blessings of liberty to themselves and posterity.

Article 1 enumerates the several powers and regulations governing the Legislature. Locke asserts that the legislature is the supreme power of every civil society; and therefore the government and regulation of that body is the chief and fundamental action which a new society should take care to perform. The founding fathers of the US must have read Locke’s political theories, and adhered to them.

The writers of the Constitution are very cautious about the privileges of the States. In this article, they reserve many powers to the legislature and federal government. For example, states are prohibited from entering into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; state may not, without the consent of congress, keep troops or ships of war in time of peace; and states may not, without the consent of congress, enter into any agreement or compact with another state. The writers were concerned that the States might become too powerful, and rebel against the federal government. Nevertheless, the writers also ensure that each state is fairly treated with respect to one another. The federal government shall not by regulation of commerce or revenue prefer the ports of one state over those of another. I am eager to read the Federalists papers. I think that those writings will illuminate the fears many early Americans possessed about the federal government becoming too powerful, and perhaps tyrannical. Of course, the writers of the Federalists Papers desired the ratification of the Constitution, and therefore I anticipate that they will present persuasive arguments which might alleviate those fears.

  • Article 2
    • The executive power shall be invested in the POTUS. He shall hold office for the term of four years with a VP. Each state shall appoint a number of electors equal to the whole number of senators and representatives thereof; but no person holding an office under the US shall be appointed an elector. The electors shall vote for two persons, of whom one at least shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves. The president of the senate shall open all the certificates in the presence of the house and senate, and the votes shall then be counted. The person having the greatest number of votes shall be president, if such a number be a whole number of the electors appointed. If no person have a majority, then from the five highest on the list the House of Reps shall choose the president by ballot. The votes shall be taken by state. Each state has one vote. A quorum for this purpose shall consist of two thirds of the states. A majority shall be necessary for a choice. After the choice of president, the person having the greatest number of votes of the electors shall be VP. If there are two or more with an equal number of votes, then the Senate shall choose by ballot the VP. The congress may determine the time of choosing electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes; which will be the same throughout the US. No person shall be eligible for the office of the president who is younger than 35, not a citizen of the US, and been a resident of the US for less than 14 years.
    • In the case of the removal of the president, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the duties and powers of the office, the same powers shall devolve on the VP. The president shall be compensated for his services. Before he enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation: “I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will faithfully execute the office of POTUS, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the US.”
    • The President shall be commander in chief of the army and navy, and of the militia of the states when called into service. He shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the US, except in cases of impeachment. He shall have the power to make treaties, provided two thirds of the senators present concur. He shall appoint officers of the US, such as Judges of the Supreme Court, by the advice and consent of the senate. He shall have the power to fill the vacancies that may happen during the recess of the senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session.
    • He shall, from time to time, give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient. He may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both houses, or either of them, and may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper. He shall receive ambassadors and other ministers. He shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.
    • The POTUS, VP, and all civil officers of the US shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of treason, bribery, or other crimes and misdemeanors.

Article 2 of the Constitution describes the manner by which a president shall be elected, the qualifications required to be president, and the powers of the office. Locke’s theories again shine through the list of powers belonging to the office of the President. For example, the constitution vests the president with the power of convening and adjourning the Congress. However, the Constitution limits this type of action to extraordinary occasions; for if the president obstructs the legislature from performing its duty, then the president has put himself into a state of war with the people, as Locke would assert.

Finally, I wonder why the framers of the constitution felt that it was necessary to grant the president the power to reprieve and pardon offenses against the United States. The President may execute this power according to whim and caprice, or, what is worse, according to reasons of personal gain, nepotism, and friendly relations. Of course, there is a check on this power. The Congress may impeach him, but this does not remedy the wrong; for the party who is pardoned shall have been already released from confinement, and immune to further prosecution.

  • Article 3
    • The power of the US shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as the Congress shall ordain and establish.
    • The judicial power shall extend to all cases in law and equity arising under the constitution, the laws of the US, and treaties made under their authority. In cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the supreme court shall have original jurisdiction. In all other cases, the supreme court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, under such regulations and exceptions as Congress shall make. The trial of all crimes, except impeachment, shall be by jury.
    • Treason shall consist in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court. The congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason; but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.

Article 3 discusses the powers and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. One interesting legal concept of which I had never been acquainted is the “corruption of blood.” In English Law, the attainted person lost all rights to inherit property or transfer any property rights to anyone by virtue of his or her conviction for treason or other felony punishable by death because the law considered the person’s blood tainted by the crime. The framers of the Constitution chose to abolish this legal concept, and also prescribed the requirement of the testimony of two witnesses of the same overt act of treason to convict and offender. From these decisions, one can suppose that the Framers were wary about convicting someone of treason, considering the difficulty in discerning a traitor from a zealous patriot wishing to subvert the current government and establish a “more perfect union.”

  • Article 4
    • Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.
    • The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states. A person charged with a crime, who shall flee from justice, and be found in another state, shall be delivered to the state having jurisdiction of the crime.
    • New states may be admitted by the congress into this union. The congress shall have the power to dispose and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the US.
    • The US shall protect each state against invasion, and against domestic violence.

Article 4 discusses the reciprocity of the laws, judicial proceedings, and civilian privileges between each of the several states. Nothing of particular interest is in this article, but there is mention of slavery, which is always an apparent contradiction of the equality that the framers profess, which snide people find delight in mentioning at every convenient opportunity to display their inflated sense of superiority.

  • Article 5
    • Whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, Congress shall propose and ratify amendments to the constitution. No state shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the senate without its consent.

Article 5 is short and sweet. It discusses the requirements to amend the constitution. The addition of the inability to deprive any state of its suffrage in the senate seems unusual. Perhaps, the framers remembered too late that a state’s right to suffrage in the senate is very important, and were compelled to place it under this article because they could not alter the document in Microsoft Word. But I jest. I imagine that in matters of such importance that the framers would have written the document anew if need be, but imagining a quarrel ensuing over a misplaced word, or misspelled word is much more entertaining.

  • Article 6
    • All debts contracted and engagements entered into before the adoption of this constitution shall be as valid against the US as under the Confederation.
    • This constitution shall be the supreme law of the land.
    • No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the US.

Article 6 is short and sweet. It legitimizes the contracts entered into before the ratification of the constitution, and also declares the constitution to be the supreme law of the land. I am most intrigued by the choice to expressly state that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the US. After reading about the persecution of the primitive Christians at the hands of the Roman Pagans, it is refreshing to read about a government establishing religious tolerance from the very beginning. Humanity sometimes learns from the past.

  • Article 7
    • Attested by the secretary William Jackson, signed by the president and deputy from Virginia, George Washington, and several representatives from twelve states.
    • Written in convention by the unanimous consent of the twelve states present on September 17, 1787.

Article 7 enumerates the imperfections of the transcription of the document. For example, “the word ‘thirty’ being partly written on an erasure in the fifteenth line of the first page…” I knew that they did not have additional paper or energy to write the document again. As evidence, I refer the reader to the insertion of certain laws under articles that treat entirely different matters than the laws – the religious test in article 6 and the inviolable suffrage of the senate under article 5 serve as perfect instances of this.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America

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