If the Declaration of Independence is dead or even irrelevant, then the United States of America no longer exists. That’s a reality. And yet, most of us understand little, if anything, of how our Declaration has any impact upon this nation today.
I’ll never forget the time I was touring Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, 10 years ago. The federally paid and trained park tour guide said: “The Constitution of the United States replaced the Declaration of Independence.” I gasped. With such beliefs being taught and promoted through our own tax dollars, it is no wonder that Americans have lost the meaning and importance of our Declaration of Independence.
We celebrate the Fourth of July, but many never truly grasp that this is no mere historic remembrance; it is in fact our nation’s birthday. Yes, our nation was birthed on July 4, 1776, when we declared to the world that we were casting off our identity as a colony of Great Britain and instead creating one new nation. This means a lot of things. For example, the Constitution did not replace the Declaration of Independence, it replaced the Articles of Confederation. This means that the Constitutional Convention was not about creating a nation, but rather about preserving our union. That the convention was a call to preserve our union was underscored by John Jay, our first chief justice of the Supreme Court, as clarified in Federalist No. 2. Oh, and it also means that George Washington was not our first president — but more on that later.
I like to clarify the relationship between the Declaration and the Constitution through a simple metaphor. If you view the creation of our country as if we were creating a new entity, like, say a corporation, then it becomes clear. The articles of incorporation are what create the new entity, and the bylaws are what govern that entity. So, our Declaration created us as a nation, and the Constitution is the rule of law that governs us as a nation. In short, you cannot do away with the Declaration without dissolving our nation. You might ask: Why is that so important? Well, it is hugely important.
This means that just as bylaws may not conflict with their articles of incorporation, the Constitution simply cannot be interpreted in any way that would conflict with the Declaration — not ever! That the Declaration created us a nation is affirmed by the Constitution itself: “in this our 12th year.” The Founders were counting inclusively from July 1776 to September 1787, which meant that they understood our nation to be within its 12th year of existence. Since the Declaration formed us as one nation, it cannot be forgotten, ignored, or even preempted by the Constitution. John Adams confirmed that you cannot rightly interpret the Constitution in the absence of the Declaration.
I am driving this point home because it is of major impact if we are to understand our constitutional republic and its underlying rule of law. The Declaration makes some very bold assertions. It tells us that we created a nation and established its government relying upon the foundation of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” According to Sir William Blackstone, the preeminent jurist of the day, this meant that we created our nation on the pursuit of the will of our Maker as revealed in the holy Scriptures. Wow, right?
But it goes on. It affirms that every person, at his or her point of creation — that is, at conception — possesses certain God-given rights that the government may not only not take away, but for which that government, to even be legitimate, must have as its goal to secure those rights. Now, think about that for a minute. That would mean that things like the unalienable right to life and liberty, or freedom from slavery, are God-given rights at the point of conception that everyone has and for which the role of government is the protection of those rights.
So, how could slavery ever have been an issue for the states — with some states being “free,” and others not? Clearly, that is lunacy and a flagrant denial of human rights. No state could ever deprive any of its citizens of the unalienable right to freedom.
Now, let’s repeat that question, only with another issue. How could the issue of abortion ever be an issue for the states, with some states allowing people to be deprived of their unalienable right to life, and others protecting those rights? Again, that is clearly lunacy and a flagrant denial of human rights.
What then, does that mean? It means that the right to life from the point of conception has always been a constitutional right. The Constitution could not be interpreted in any other way without directly conflicting with the Declaration of Independence. And we’ve already explained why this is something it simply cannot do.
Let’s hope that it’s becoming clear, then, that when we just celebrated the Fourth of July, we were really celebrating our nation’s entering its 248th year of existence. We were celebrating God’s having given us a nation whose rule of law seeks His will. We were celebrating the reality that life, from the point of conception, is an unalienable right that all governments — federal, state, and local — must protect if they are to be legitimate. And I believe we were celebrating the fact that the same way God miraculously and providentially enabled us to become a nation, so, too, is He moving to preserve our nation!
Oh, I almost forgot: So, who was our first president? There were 14 men who led prior to Washington, starting with two, Peyton Randolph and Henry Middleton, who oversaw the Continental Congress in 1774. But since it was the Declaration of Independence that first declared us a nation, neither of those men were president of the new nation. That means that the person who was president of the Continental Congress at the time we declared ourselves to be a nation was in fact our first president.
That man should be burned into our memories by his willingness to boldly sign the Declaration — an act of “treason” — knowing full well that he was pledging his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor. His was the sole signature with affirmation by the Congressional secretary. As the document was sent around, this new president was hopeful that others would follow suit and add their signatures to his. In short, our first president was the first person to place his “John Hancock” on the Declaration. This is why his signature is so much more prominent than the others who signed later. And now you know. The first person to serve as president of our new nation was indeed — John Hancock.
Share your prayers below for God’s continued blessings on us as a nation. We need them.
Cynthia Dunbar is an attorney, author, constitutional scholar, IFA board member, Regent government professor, and former Liberty law professor. She co-hosts CONSTITUTIONAL CORNER with Dave Kubal. Click FREEDOM FOCUS to watch her videos, and click SCHEDULE to invite her to speak.