Bedrock of the Constitution: Understanding How the Constitution Was Based on the Declaration of Independence Provides the Knowledge Needed to Defend Our God-Given Rights

By Vieira, Edwin, Jr. | The New American, November 10, 2008 | Go to article overview

Bedrock of the Constitution: Understanding How the Constitution Was Based on the Declaration of Independence Provides the Knowledge Needed to Defend Our God-Given Rights


Vieira, Edwin, Jr., The New American


Would any reasonably prudent businessman sign a proposed contract involving a large-scale venture to be conducted over many years, if the other party admitted that most of the contract's terms were undefined, that some terms were so vague as to be undefinable, and that in the future he intended to interpret all of the contract's provisions in whatever matter might suit his own purposes at that time? Obviously not. Yet this is precisely the theory of "the living Constitution" that all too many judges and lawyers actually put into practice today. In essence, they contend that Americans have a constitution with no fixed meaning and that the Constitution therefore can be interpreted, reinterpreted, and reinterpreted yet again in order to advance the political and economic agenda of public officials and their clients in special-interest groups.

Central to this theory is the claim that no truly "unalienable fights" exist--that all individual rights are subject to "reasonable regulation" by the state, particularly if public officials can point to some purported "compelling governmental interest" for doing so. Thus, the government may curtail some individual rights entirely under certain circumstances, and may limit all such rights to some degree under some circumstances.

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An assertion of this type is hardly astounding for self-interested public officials to advance. After all, to the extent individual rights are constricted, officialdom's powers correspondingly expand. Yet the proponents of "the living Constitution" do offer some apparently plausible arguments in favor of their position. In fact, they correctly point out, the Constitution does not contain the term "unalienable rights." The Ninth Amendment does declare that "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." But this amendment does not describe these rights as "unalienable." Nor does it explicitly deny that, even though these rights are "retained by the people" (as all individual rights must be), they can nonetheless be "regulated" by some level or branch of government. Similarly, the Tenth Amendment declares that "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." But this amendment does not deny that the powers delegated to the General Government, or reserved to the states, are sufficient for "regulating" every individual right to some degree in one situation or another.

These, however, are superficial readings. For they leave out of consideration that the source of legal authority for the Constitution of the United States--as well as for the constitutions of every state--is the Declaration of Independence, and that the Declaration sets rigid standards for the exercise of governmental powers precisely in order to secure individual rights.

Adopted on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence not only declared the independence of the 13 "united States of America" from Great Britain but also provided the philosophical basis for instituting new government based on the principles of securing God-given rights. During the War for Independence, these states joined together to form a government based upon such principles under the Articles of Confederation. After the war they formed a new government under the Constitution that was stronger than the short-lived Confederation but still based upon the principles of the Declaration.

In short, the Declaration of Independence provides the philosophical underpinnings for the republic established by the Constitution. The Constitution is not, and cannot be, self-justifying. Legal authority cannot arise out of nothing. True, as its Preamble attests, "We the People ... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." So the immediate source of the Constitution's authority is "the People. …

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