What is the founding document of the United States? If you answered the Constitution, you are wrong. The document that founded the United States is the Declaration of Independence. After all, do we celebrate the nation’s birthday on September 17th, or July 4th? If you answered July 4th, then how can the Constitution be our founding document when it wasn’t ratified until September 17th, 1787. But there’s more. If you look in the preamble of both the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution, you will find a reference in each to the pre-existence of the United States of America. So, once again, I ask you: “How could the Constitution be the founding document of this nation is the founders, themselves, thought that the Declaration of Independence was the founding document of this union?
But this issue is even more important than you may understand. Properly understood, the Declaration of Independence is the “What” and the “Why” of America while the Constitution is just the “How.” One of the primary reasons for a great many of the problems we have today is due to the fact that we no longer understand this. The enemies of individual rights and liberty have successfully divorced the Constitution from the Declaration of Independence. Our founders never intended for this to happen. In their eyes, the Declaration of Independence was as much a part of the law as the Constitution. It was the source of the law, the principle and ideal to which the law is aimed and by which it is governed. In short, the Declaration of Independence is a declaration acknowledging the existence of Natural Rights and Natural Law. The Constitution is just the Social Contract by which we agree to protect and preserve those rights. Unless you hold up the principles and ideal asserted in the Declaration of Independence, there is no way you can properly understand what the Constitution is intended to protect, or how it is intended to function.
Now, I have had many people tell me that I am wrong about all of this, but I know I’m not. I know I am correct because one of the men who was witness to and participated in the birth of this nation from the start tells me that I’m right:
“Before the formation of this Constitution…[t]his Declaration of Independence was received and ratified by all the States in the Union and has never been disannulled.”
–John Quincy Adams
And two of the most important founders made statements in support of Admas’ assertion:
“The Declaration of Independence… [is the] declaratory charter of our rights, and the rights of man.”
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Adams Wells, May 12, 1821
“This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion”.
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825
“On the distinctive principles of the Government … of the U. States, the best guides are to be found in… The Declaration of Independence, as the fundamental Act of Union of these States.”
–James Madison, letter to Thomas Jefferson, February 8, 1825
Now, people may try to make the case that these men didn’t mean what they so clearly said, or even that they are wrong in their understanding of the very documents they wrote with their own hands, but those who attempt such a feat are merely kicking against the boards. One cannot argue with the author as to the intent of what he wrote. The authority is always the supreme authority over his ideas.