The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
Welcome Contents What's New Search this site
View Our Stats
Visitors since 7/15/1998
Links   Guest Book Contact Us
This site is eye friendly: Use your browser's view options to increase or decrease font size

Declaration of Independence Is Not Law

There have been some who claim that the Declaration of Independence is law, at the very least organic law of this nation.

Research and writing by Jim Allison


LAW. That which is laid down, ordained, or established. A rule or method according to which phenomena or actions co-exist or follow each other. Law, in its generic sense, is a body of rules of action or conduct prescribed by controlling authority, and having binding legal force. That which must be obeyed and followed by citizens subject to sanctions or legal consequences is a law. Law is a solemn expression of the will of the supreme power of the State. California .Civil Code, p 22.

The "law" of a state is to be found in its statutory and constitutional enactments, as interpreted by its courts, and, in absence of statute law, in rulings of its courts (i.e. case law).

The word may mean or embrace: body of principles, standards and rules promulgated by government constitution or constitutional provision; statute or enactment of legislative body; administrative agency rules and regulations; judicial decisions, judgments or decrees; municipal ordinances; or, long established local custom which has the force of law.

With reference to its origin, "law" is derived either from judicial precedents, from legislation, or from custom.

Source of Information:

Black's Law Dictionary, Abridged Sixth Edition, Centennial Edition (1891-1991) West Publishing, St. Paul Minnesota, (1991) p. 612)

Organic Law

Organic law. The fundamental law, or constitution, of a state or nation, written or unwritten. That law or system of laws or principles which defines and establishes the organization of its government"

Source of Information:

Black's Law Dictionary, Abridged Sixth Edition, Centennial Edition (1891-1991) West Publishing Co. (1991) p. 1099).

Another Definition:

Constitutions, organic laws, and basic statutes represent for most countries the underlying creative legal force for their governments. . .

Declarations of Principles (examples)

Magna Carta, 1297

Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, (La Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen), 1789

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UNGAR 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948

Declarations of principles may or may not have binding character in a legal sense. Take for example this phrase from the US Declaration of Independence:

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.

It is true that these concepts have been incorporated into the body politic of the United States and of other countries, the Declaration of Independence itself does not -- of itself -- create or legislate rights or obligations . . .

Source of Information:

What Some Others Have Said

Four Pillars of Constitutionalism: The Organic Laws of the United States

by Richard Howard Cox (Editor)

Introduction to and text of The &Quot;Organic Laws" of the USA., August 25, 1998, Introduction by Richard Cox

Reviewer: The author, Richard Howard Cox

American Consitutionalism rests on four pillars: the Declaration of Independence; the Articles of Confederation; the Northwest Ordinance of 1787; and the Constitution. These fundamental documents, which have the collective title "The Organic Laws of the United States of America", are the first section of THE UNITED STATES CODE, the official text of the statute laws of the federal government. The 70-page introduction of this book traces the history of the official versions of our federal laws. It shows that the "organic laws" section has stood as a noble preamble to the official version of our federal laws virtually all of the time since 1878. It also makes a detailed argument for a renewed understanding of the Constitution as the ultimate "organic law". That mode of understanding is, in essence, the one articulated by Abraham Lincoln, and is in great contrast to the present-day tendency, within political science and law, to view the Constitution through the refracting, and often distorting, lens of "constitutional law". The latter half of the book contains the full, official text of the four "organic laws" and an extensive list of supplementary reading.

Here is one opinion of what someone thinks "Organic Law" is:

"The Organic Law"
Christianity in American Law

  • The "Organic Law" is the Fundamental Law of a Government System.
  • The US Supreme Court in Holy Trinity v. U.S. declared that America "is a Christian nation."
  • This was not a demographic survey or poll of people's opinions.
  • The Court was speaking of the nation's fundamental laws and charters: its "organic law."


Black's Law Dictionary, Rev. 4th Ed.
ORGANIC LAW - The fundamental law, or constitution, of a state or nation, written or unwritten; that law or system of laws or principles which defines and establishes the organization of its government.
St. Louis v. Dorr, 145 Mo. 466, 46 S.W. 976, 42 L.R.A. 686, 86 Am.St. Rep. 575
U.S. Supreme Court, Holy Trinity v. U.S.
There is no dissonance in these declarations. There is a universal language pervading them all, having one meaning. They affirm and reaffirm that this is a religious nation. These are not individual sayings, declarations of private persons. They are organic utterances. They speak the voice of the entire people.
These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.
In PUBLIC CITIZEN v. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, 491 U.S. 440 (1989), JUSTICE KENNEDY, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE O'CONNOR join, concurring in the judgment, wrote:
The Church of the Holy Trinity entered into a contract with an alien residing in England to come to the United States to serve as the director and pastor of the church. Notwithstanding the fact that this agreement fell within the plain language of the statute, which was conceded to be the case, see ibid., the Court overrode the plain language, drawing instead on the background and purposes of the statute to conclude that Congress did not intend its broad prohibition to cover the importation of Christian ministers. The central support for the Court's ultimate conclusion that Congress did not intend the law to cover Christian ministers is its lengthy review of the "mass of organic utterances" establishing that "this is a Christian nation," and which were taken to prove that it could not "be believed that a Congress of the United States intended to make it a misdemeanor for a church of this country to contract for the services of a Christian minister residing in another nation." Id., at 471.
Justice David Brewer, The United States: A Christian Nation (1905)
Justice Brewer pointed out that his claim (that America is a "Christian nation") reached into the "organic law" of the nation, and every State in the union, thus putting it on the firmest of legal authority. The claim that America is a Christian nation is in "the domain of official action and recognition," not mere "individual acceptance." (p 27 in 1996 reprint).

Until you send us this article, readers of this page will have to be content with the following dialogue on American OnLine's "Separation of Church and State" Discussion Board.

Subject: Justice Douglas on Religion in Public Schools
Date: 04 Aug 1998 11:27:49 EDT

Even though Justice Douglas concurred in Engel v. Vitale, which removed voluntary prayer from public schools, he admitted that

Religion was once deemed to be a function of the public school system. The Northwest Ordinance, which antedated the First Amendment, provided in Article III that "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

Remember the saying, "The end doesn't justify the means."
In the Northwest Ordinance, the "end" is religion and  morality, and the "means" are public schools. The Founding Fathers believed that the end required the means, that public schools served the purpose of advancing religion.

The Northwest Ordinance is one of the nation's "organic laws," along with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (see West's edition of the U.S. Code, vol. 1, which lists them as among the "organic laws of the United States."). Douglas says this Ordinance "antedated the First Amendment," by which he hopes to make us think that it came long before some great revolution of thought embodied in the First Amendment. The Ordinance was approved by the House on July 21, 1789, and by the Senate on Aug 4, 1789. This was the same Congress that was simultaneously framing the religion clauses of the First Amendment. And for decades after the Bill of Rights was passed, this Ordinance was extended by Congress to new states admitted to the Union. For example,

When the Ohio territory applied for statehood in 1802, Congress framed an "enabling act" which required that Ohio form its state government in a manner "not repugnant to the [Northwest] Ordinance." As a result, Ohio's constitution declared:

[R]eligion, morality, and knowledge, being essentially necessary to the good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of instruction shall forever be encouraged by legislative provision.

When Mississippi applied for statehood in 1817, Congress required that its government be formed in a manner "not repugnant to the principles of the Ordinance." Hence, Mississippi's constitution declared:

Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government, the preservation of liberty and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged in this State.

The Constitutions of Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas (1858), Nebraska (1875), and many other territorial papers and state constitutions make clear that government had a duty to promote Christianity. The Northwest Ordinance was signed by President Washington on Aug 7, 1789. "History must judge whether it was the Father of his Country in 1789, or a majority of the Court today, which has strayed from the meaning of the [First Amendment]." (Justice Rehnquist in Wallace v. Jaffree.)

Kevin C.

There are several items mentioned above -- Holy Trinity Supreme Court case, Northwest Ordinance, several state constitutions,etc. Each of these items is addressed at various places on this web site. See the Contents page to find them: Table of Contents


Some have claimed that the Declaration of Independence was/is Organic Law of the United States. When certain people say it, it is an attempt to prove a particular point. The reasoning goes something like this:

Common Law:

Blackstone and Joseph Story, claimed that Christianity is part and parcel of the English Common Law. The basis of American Law is English Common Law. That foundation is further reinforced by the organic laws of this nation:

Declaration of Independence claims all our rights come from God

Articles of Confederation refer to God and Congress passed various religious orientated acts under the A. O. C. Also Congress had Chaplains, dated In Year of Our Lord

Northwest Ordinance, first sentence of Article III mentions religion

Constitution exempted Sundays and said In year of Our Lord First Congress appointed chaplains

United States Supreme Court "said" this was a "Christian Nation" in the Holy Trinity case

The above is the in part or full formula of "proof" that some people have offered over the years in articles, books, letters to editors, discussions and debates, especially in various forums on the net.

Along the Same Lines

Along the same lines, the following was offered in the United States House of Representatives in late night session on June 15-16, 1999. For more information on this event, click here

Posted: 6/21/1999

The Text of Amendment No.28:

The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. It is now in order to consider amendment No. 28 printed in part A of House Report 106-186. (H4364-4469)


Mr. ADERHOLT. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.

The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. The Clerk will designate the amendment. The text of the amendment is as follows: Part A amendment No. 28 offered by Mr. Aderholt:

Add at the end the following new title:



The Congress finds the following:

(1) The Declaration of Independence declares that governments are instituted to secure certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, with which all human beings are endowed by their Creator and to which they are entitled by the laws of nature and of nature's God.

(2) The organic laws of the United States Code and the constitutions of every State, using various expressions, recognize God as the source of the blessings of liberty.

(3) The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States secures rights against laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof made by the United States Government.

(4) The rights secured under the First Amendment have been interpreted by courts of the United States Government to be included among the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.

(5) The Tenth Amendment reserves to the States respectively the powers not delegated to the United States Government nor prohibited to the States.

(6) Disputes and doubts have arisen with respect to public displays of the Ten Commandments and to other public expression of religious faith.

(7) Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment grants the Congress power to enforce the provisions of the said amendment.

(8) Article I, Section 8, grants the Congress power to constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court, and Article III, Section 1, grants the Congress power to ordain and establish courts in which the judicial power of the United States Government shall be vested.


(a) Display of Ten Commandments: The power to display the Ten Commandments on or within property owned or administered by the several States or political subdivisions thereof is hereby declared to be among the powers reserved to the States respectively.

(b) Expression of Religious Faith: The expression of religious faith by individual persons on or within property owned or administered by the several States or political subdivisions thereof is hereby"

(1) declared to be among the rights secured against laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion made or enforced by the United States Government or by any department or executive or judicial officer thereof; and

(2) declared to be among the liberties of which no State shall deprive any person without due process of law made in pursuance of powers reserved to the States respectively.

(c) Exercise of Judicial Power: The courts constituted, ordained, and established by the Congress shall exercise the judicial power in a manner consistent with the foregoing declarations.

The Declaration of Independence and The Constitutional Convention

We were asked the following questions

(1) More importantly, the text of the Constitution - and the deliberations leading to it - contradict what is being asserted. During the constitutional debates, one finds minimal mention of God, the Bible, Jesus, the Ten Commandments or even the Declaration of Independence. Rather, one sees a remarkable lack of significant references to any of those entities, and a resulting document staggering for its secularity. In the state ratification conventions, the decision to omit God was discussed and upheld [refs needed], consistent with fact that despite references to the Almighty and sectarianism in virtually every state constitution, the national constitution has neither.

Can you supply me with cites for the above that I was told?

(2) Are you aware of any mention of the Declaration of Independence in the deliberations that gave rise to the Bill of Rights? (Or, for that matter, in the deliberations that gave rise to the Constitution, itself? Although I imagine there must have been some there."

Our reply was:

There are no references for the word Bible. There are approx eleven references for the word religion. None for Jesus. I only find three references for The Declaration of Independence, one during the debates, one during the ratification debates in Pennsylvania, and one in a letter in 1788.

Monday, June 18, 1787

. . . If the States therefore retained some portion of their sovereignty, they had certainly divested themselves of essential portions of it. If they formed a confederacy in some respects-they formed a Nation in others-The Convention could clearly deliberate on & propose any alterations that Cong! could have done under ya federal articles, and could not Cong• propose by . virtue of the last article, a change in any article whatever: and as well that relating to the equality of suffrage, as any other. He made these remarks to obviate some scruples which had been expressed. He doubted much the practicability of annihilating the States; but thought that much of their power ought to be taken from them.

Mr. MARTIN, said he considered that the separation from G. B. placed the 13 States in a state of Nature towards each other; that they would have remained in that state till this time, but for the confederation; that they entered into the confederation on the footing of equality; that they met now to to amend it on the same footing; and that he could never accede to a plan that would introduce an inequality and lay Io States at the mercy of V• Mass!-and Penn•

Mr. WILSON, could not admit the doctrine that when the Colonies became independent of G. Britain, they became independent also of each other. He read the Declaration of Independence, observing thereon that the United Colonies were declared to be free & independent States; and inferring that they were independent, not individually but Unitedly and that they were confederated as they were independent, States.

Source of Information:

Bicentennial Edition, Notes of the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, Reported by James Madison With an introduction by Adrienne Koch W. W. Norton & Company (1987) p. 153


But the gentleman takes pride in the superiority of this short preamble when compared with magna charta;-why, Sir, I hope the rights of men are better understood at this day, than at the framing of that deed, and we must be convinced that civil liberty is capable of still greater improvement and extension, than is known even in its present cultivated state. True, Sir, the supreme authority naturally rests in the people, but does it follow, that therefore a declaration of rights would be superfluous? Because the people have a right to alter and abolish government, can it therefore be inferred that every step taken to secure that right would be superfluous and nugatory? The truth is, that unless some criterion is established by which it could be easily and constitutionally ascertained how far our governors may proceed, and by which it might appear when they transgress their jurisdiction, this idea of altering and abolishing government is a mere sound without substance. Let us recur to the memorable declaration of the 4th of July, 1776. Here it is said:

"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'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.

"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 a 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."

Now, Sir, if in the proposed plan, the gentleman can shew any similar security for the civil rights of the people I shall certainly be relieved from a weight of objection to its adoption, and I sincerely hope, that as he has gone so far, he will proceed to communicate some of the reasons (and undoubtedly they must have been powerful ones,) which induced the late federal convention to omit a bill of rights, so essential in the opinion of many citizens to a perfect form of government.

Source of Information:

"John Smilie Responds to James Wilson on the Lack of a Bill of Rights". Pennsylvania Constitutional Ratification Convention, November 28, 1787, The Debates on the Constitution, Part One The Library of America, Second Printing (1993) p. 805


Dear Sir New York Sept. 21. 1788

. . . Congress have at length finished the preparations necessary to give the New Government Effect after a great deal of debating & perhaps some warmth; occasioned by the indecision, or rather division of the Members about a place the most proper for the first meeting &c &c. This Question, Sir, had the power to collect all the delegations from the different parts of the Union, so that there has not been a fuller Congress since the declaration of Independence.

Source of Information:

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 25 March 1, 1788-December 31, 1789, John Swann to James Iredell, page 381

With regards to the Bill of Rights I can steer you in the direction of a book, which I always wanted to buy but at 136.00 new or 90.00 used it is not something that will happen anytime soon.

The Complete Bill of Rights: The Drafts, Debates, Sources, and Origins by Neil H. Cogan (Editor)

I can add this from another book:

By the era of the American Revolution trial by jury was probably the most common right in all the colonies. When Parliament imposed the Stamp Act of 1765, authorizing admiralty courts to enforce its provisions, John Adams voiced the American reaction: "But the most grievous innovation of all, is the alarming extension of the power of courts of admiralty. In these courts, one judge presides alone! No juries have any concern there! The law and the fact are both to be decided by the same single judge." Thus, the Stamp Act Congress protested the denial of one of "the most essential rights and liberties of the colonists," and the Boston town meeting of 1772, which framed "A List of Infringements and Violations of Rights," included trial by jury, which it hailed as "the grand bulwark and security of English property." Colonists vehemently denounced admiralty courts because they worked without juries. Selectively quoting from Blackstone's Commentaries, the colonists praised his remarks to the effect that trial by jury was the "sacred palladium" of English liberties that might be undermined by new or different methods of trial.

Americans formally claimed trial by a jury of the vicinage as a right of Englishmen whenever they apprehended that Britain threatened that right, as when a provision of the Coercive Acts of 1774 authorized the trial in England of certain persons who violated the acts. The first Continental Congress in 1774 approved of an intercolonial "Declaration of Rights" based on natural law, the, English Constitution, and the provincial charters. The Declaration of Rights included "the great and inestimable privilege of being tried by their peers of the vicinage" according to the common law. And when Congress sought to enlist Canadian support for its cause, its letter to the inhabitants of Quebec, in 1774, specified trial by jury as the preserver of life, liberty, and property against arbitrary and capricious men. In the 1775 Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, Congress censured Britain for having passed statutes "extending the jurisdiction of courts of admiralty and vice-admiralty beyond their ancient limits; for depriving us of the accustomed and inestimable privilege of trial by jury, in cases affecting both life and property" In the Declaration of Independence, Congress criticized George III for "depriving us, in many cases, of the benefit of trial by jury."

Source of Information:

Origins of the Bill of Rights, Leonard W. Levy, Yale University Press (1999) pp. 226-27

The House did not take the time or trouble to review his recommended amendments with the attention they deserved. In committee or as a result of debate, the House added only one important right to Madison's list, freedom of speech, which Pennsylvania had constitutionally protected. Some major principles, which appropriately prefaced a bill of rights, were deleted, despite their commonplaceness. Madison, for example, had urged a statement that power derives from and rests with the people, that government should be exercised for their benefit, and that they have a right to change that government when inadequate to its purposes. He had lifted his statement of those purposes from his own state's 1776 constitution and from its 1788 recommendations for inclusion in a national bill of rights. Those purposes expressed the idea that governments are instituted to secure the people, said Madison, "in the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety." The Declaration of Independence had made the points more concisely and felicitously, but not with such generosity. The Virginia version proposed by Madison (and adopted in numerous state constitutions) spoke not only about the pursuit of happiness but of obtaining it. Conceivably, the committee that eliminated Madison's prefatory principles believed them to be implicit in its streamlined version of what became the Ninth Amendment: "The enumeration in this Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." Both houses approved.

Source of Information:

Origins of the Bill of Rights, Leonard W. Levy, Yale University Press (1999) pp. 248-49

What rights did the Ninth Amendment protect? They had to be either "natural rights" or "positive rights," to use the terms Madison employed in the notes for the great speech of June 8 advocating amendments. In that speech he distinguished "the preexistent rights of nature" from those "resulting from a social compact." In his notes, he mentioned freedom of "speach" as a natural right, yet he failed to provide for it in his recommended amendments. That is an example of Madison having acknowledged the existence of important rights that he had not enumerated or believed to be included within the unenumerated category. Freedom of speech was a right that preexisted government; it was inherent in human nature and did not depend for its existence on organized society. In 1775 Alexander Hamilton wrote that "the sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole a volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power." Another toughminded American materialist had led the way to such thinking. a John Dickinson, speaking of "the rights essential to happiness," rhapsodized: "We claim them from a higher source-from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power without taking our lives. In short, they are founded on the immutable maxims of reason and justice." Such opinions were commonplace.

So, too, the directly related views expressed by Jefferson in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence reflected commonly held principles. In 1822 John Adams, who had been a member of the committee of Congress that Jefferson had chaired in 1776, observed that there was "not an idea in it [the Declaration] but what had been hackneyed." Jefferson asserted that "all American whigs thought alike" on those matters. The purpose of the Declaration, he wrote, was not "to find out new principles, or new arguments . . . but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject." These views are central to the meaning of the Ninth Amendment. Contrary to cynical legal scholars of today, the ideas of the preamble to the Declaration did not go out of fashion in a decade and a half; and those ideas were as appropriate for writing a frame of government as for writing a "brief."

The proof derives from both text and context. The text of the Ninth Amendment does protect the unenumerated rights of the people, and no reason exists to believe that it does not mean what it says. The context consists of Madison's remarks about natural rights during the legislative history of the amendment and also the references to natural rights in the opinions of the time, or what Madison called "contemporaneous interpretations." The last of the state constitutions that came out of the Revolution, that of New Hampshire, began with a bill of rights of 1783 whose language Madison might have used in his first proposed amendment, the one that included the pursuit and obtaining of happiness. Virginia's 1788 recommendations for amendments to the Constitution began similarly, as had New York's and North Carolina's. At the Pennsylvania ratifying convention, James Wilson, who had been second only to Madison as an architect of the Constitution, quoted the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, and he added: "This is the broad basis on which our independence was ., placed; on the same certain and solid foundation this system [the Constitution] is erected."

Source of Information:

Origins of the Bill of Rights, Leonard W. Levy, Yale University Press (1999) pp. 250-51

The Declaration is not only part of our history; we are part of its history. We have cited it, over the years, for many purposes, including the purpose of deceiving ourselves; and it has become a misshapen thing in our minds. Jefferson never intended it for a spiritual Covenant; but it has traveled in an Ark that got itself more revered the more it was battered.

The best way to honor the spirit of Jefferson is to use his doubting intelligence again on his own text. Only skepticism can save him from his devotees, return us to the drier air of his scientific maxims, all drawn with the same precision that went into his architectural sketches. The pollster on the street wants us to "endorse" Jefferson's Declaration. But Jefferson would be the first to ask what such an exercise could mean. Despite his hostility to Plato, he liked Socrates and thought the unexamined life not worth living. Even more, the unexamined document is not worth signing. The Declaration has been turned into something of a blank check for idealists of all sorts to fill in as they like. We had better stop signing it (over and over) and begin reading it. I do not mean seeing it. I mean reading it.

That is a more difficult task than one might at first suppose. The Declaration is constantly invoked but rarely studied. There have, in fact, been only three important books on the document written in this century-John Hazelton's in 1906, settling the outstanding historical problems of the paper's passage and signing; Carl Becker's in 1922, enshrining the Lockean interpretation of its content; and Julian Boyd's first volume of the Jefferson Papers in 1950, establishing the text with magisterial thoroughness. Other books have done little but recast, popularize, or misquote these seminal works in three different fields connected with the Declaration.

Why such exiguous scholarship around a paper so loved, so often put to questionable political use, so omnipresent at the merely verbal level? A preliminary hint or two may be given here, to be explored more fully later. For one thing, the Declaration is not a legal instrument, like the Constitution. Each phrase of the latter document has been tested in courts and in legal classrooms, under strict rules of interpretation, with consequences of the most serious kind riding on the results of such inquiry. Men go free or go to jail, depending on the reading of a phrase. The Declaration, having no such force of law, has not undergone this discipline of "construction," strict or loose.

Besides, for the Constitution we have the long drafting process recorded in Madison's notes, the arguments of the framers voiced in protracted debate, the records of ratifying conventions in each state, along with the authoritative exposition of federal doctrine by "Publius." There are no notes from the drafting or acceptance of the Declaration, which was by comparison the work of a few days. Nor did the Declaration call forth early attack or exposition of a fruitful sort. It had, indeed, astonishingly little immediate effect in the world of ideas, and quickly sank into an obscurity not fully dispelled for almost half a century. When serious scrutiny did begin, it was occasioned by distorting acrimony. As the document grew in importance, so did the myths and partisan uses. The time of obscurity yielded to almost a century of blinding glare and misrepresentation, until Hazelton began the scholarly reclamation of the paper.

Source of Information:

Inventing America, Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, by Garry Wills, Vintage Books (June 1979) Prologue, pp. xiii-xxiv

A "Christian Country and Christian People"`

The first source of the Christian nation concept during the nineteenth century came from the notion that the American nation and its democratic system were based on Christian principles. This notion was derived from popular belief that the first settlers had been guided to the new land by the providential hand of God which had in turn protected and nurtured the colonies in their development into a nation. These providential influences guided the Founding Fathers in creating the new government and found their way into the nation's organic documents. Thus, central to this argument was the belief that Christian principles provided the foundation for the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and for American democracy itself. Because of these origins, the state had a special obligation to promote Christian principles as a way of preserving both democratic and religious institutions.

This view of America's Christian nationhood was widely shared in varying degrees throughout the nineteenth century, especially during the antebellum period, and is even espoused today. What is so remarkable about this perspective is that it was not generally shared by the founders and their contemporaries, but instead developed through a melding of America's religious heritage with evangelical aspirations for America's millennial role.

Source of Information:

THE RHETORIC AND REALITY OF THE "CHRISTIAN NATION" MAXIM IN AMERICAN LAW, 1810-1920 by Steven Keith Green A unpublished dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of History. Chapel Hill, (1997) p 22)


By Authority of Congress


Public Statues at Large

of the

United States of America,

from the

Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845.

Arranged in chronological order.


References to the Matter of Each Act and to the Subsequent Acts

on the Same Subject,


Copious Notes of the Decisions

of the

Courts of the United States

Construing those acts, and upon the subjects of the Laws.

with an

Index to the Contents of Each volume,

and a

Full General Index to the whole work, in the Concluding Volume.

Together with

The Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and

the Constitution of the United States;

and also,

Tables, in the last volume, containing lists of the acts relating to the


imposts and tonnage, the public lands, etc.

Edited by

Richard Peters, Esq.,

Counsellor at Law.

The rights and interest of the United States in the stereotype plates from which this work is printed, are hereby recognized, acknowledged, and declared by the publishers, according to the provisions of the joint resolution of Congress, passed March 3, 1845.

Vol. I.


Charles C. Little and James Brown.


In the above book on page 1, one finds the Declaration of Independence. On page 4 one finds the Articles of Confederation, page 10 gives us the Constitution, page 21 Amendments to the Constitution, but nowhere does one find any mention of "Organic Laws." Therefore, in 1845 no Organic Law designation was given to the Declaration of Independence On page 23 one finds

The Laws of The United States


Acts of The First Congress Of The United States

The very first one , "An Act to Regulate The Time And Manner of Administrating Certain Oaths" is dated June 1, 1789. Thus, the very first law of the United States was dated June 1, 1789, not 1797, not 1783, not 1781, not 1776 or 1774 even.

United States Code, 1988 Edition, Containing the General and Permanent Laws of the United States, in force on January 3, 1989. Volume one. Organic laws, Title 1 - General provisions to Title 6-Surety Bonds.

Under a section numbered XXXVII - LXVII, Titled Organic Laws of the united States of America, it contains the Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, The Northwest Ordinance and the Constitution.

Fact of the matter is, the latter three of those were, in fact, at some time or other actual in force and enforceable laws. The Constitution, of course, still is law, the supreme law of the land.

The Declaration of Independence never was a law. One has to wonder, if they want it to be a law, what was it enacting? Under whose authority? What was the punishment for not carrying out whatever it enacted?

On Page XXXIX after The Declaration of Independence-1776 there is a footnote 1:


1 The delegates of the United Colonies of New Hampshire; Massachusetts Bay; Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; Connecticut; New York; New Jersey; Pennsylvania; New Castle, Went, and Sussex, in Delaware; Maryland; Virginia; North Carolina, and South Carolina, In Congress assembled at Philadelphia, Resolved on the 10th of May, 1776, to recommend to the respective assemblies and conventions of the United Colonies, where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs had been established, to adopt such a government as should, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents ire particular, and of America in general. A preamble to this resolution, agreed to on the 15th of May, stated the intention to be totally to suppress the exercise of every kind of authority under the British crown. On the 7th of June, certain resolutions respecting independency were moved and seconded. On the 10th of June it was resolved, that a committee should be appointed to prepare a declaration to the following effect: "That the 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." On the preceding day it was determined that the committee for preparing the declaration should consist of five, and they were chosen accordingly, in the following order: Mr. Jefferson. Mr. J. Adams, Mr. Franklin, Mr. Sherman, Mr. R. R. Idvingston. On the 11th of June a resolution was passed to appoint a committee to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between the colonies, and another committee to prepare a plan of treaties to be proposed to foreign powers. On the 12th of June, it was resolved, that a committee of Congress should be appointed by the name of a board of war and ordnance, to consist of five members. On the 25th of June, a declaration of the deputies of Pennsylvania, met in provincial conference, expressing their willingness to concur in a vote declaring the United Colonies free and independent States, was laid before Congress and read. On the 28th of June, the committee appointed to prepare a Declaration of Independence brought in a draught, which was read, and ordered to lie on the table. On the 1st of July, a resolution of the convention of Maryland, passed the 28th of June, authorizing the deputies of that colony to concur in declaring the United Colonies free and independent States, was laid before Congress and read. On the same day Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole, to take into consideration the resolution respecting independency. On the 2d of July, a resolution declaring the colonies free and independent States, was adopted. A declaration to that effect was, on the same and the following days, taken into further consideration. Finally, on the 4th of July, the Declaration of Independence was agreed to, engrossed on paper, signed by John Hancock as president, and directed to be sent to the several assemblies, conventions, and committees, or councils of safety, and to the several commanding officers of the continental troops, and to be proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the head of the Army. It was also ordered to be entered upon the Journals of Congress, and on the 2d of August, a copy engrossed on parchment was signed by all but one of the fifty-six signers whose names are appended to it. That one was Matthew Thornton, of New Hampshire, who on taking his seat in November asked and obtained the privilege of signing it. Several who signed it on the 2d of August were absent when it was adopted on the 4th of July, but, approving of it, they thus signified their approbation.

NOTE.-The proof of this document, as published above, was read by Mr. Ferdinand Jefferson, the Keeper of the Rolls at the Department of State, at Washington, who compared it with the fac-simile of the original in his custody. He says: "In the facsimile, as in the original, the whole instrument runs on without a break, but dashes are mostly inserted. I have, in this copy, followed the arrangement of paragraphs adopted in the publication of the Declaration in the newspaper of John Dunlap, and as printed by him for the Congress, which printed copy is inserted in the original Journal of the old Congress. The same paragraphs are also made by the author, in the original draught preserved in the Department of State."

There Is Also This

[Bold emphasis added]

The constitutional and legal status of the Declaration of Independence is curiously ambiguous. John Hancock (in his capacity as president of the Second Continental Congress) and James Madison both considered it to be, in Madison's words, "the fundamental Act of Union of these States." Reflecting that view, Congress has placed it at the head of the United States Code, under the caption, "The Organic Laws of the United States of America." The Supreme Court has INFREQUENTLY accorded it binding legal force, for example, in resolving questions of alienage (Inglis v. Trustees of Sailor's Snug Harbour, 1830). Yet lawyers generally, and the Supreme Court in particular, have been reluctant to treat the Declaration as part of American organic law, or even to accord it the restricted status of the Preamble to the Constitution. Conservatives like Daniel Webster denied that there is a constitutionally recognized right of revolution, and those state supreme courts that have addressed the issue in the twentieth century have adopted Webster's view. Reformers, such as antebellum abolitionists, insisted that the Declaration was part of the constitutional order, while their opponents, including John C. Calhoun, denigrated its authority and validity. The adoption of the 'Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments allayed the urgency of that question by incorporating concepts of equality, freedom, and citizenship into the operative constitutional text.

Nevertheless, the Declaration of Independence endures as the basic statement of the principles of American government. Abraham Lincoln invoked its authority in the supreme crisis of the union, and it remains today the foundation of our constitutional order.

Source of Information:

The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States, Kermit Hall, editor (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 223,

Declaration of Independence and National Renewal by William Einwechter


Among Christians there are various perspectives on the Declaration of Independence. Some believe that the principles of the Declaration are rooted in the Bible and a Christian worldview,1 while others consider it to be the product of Enlightenment thought as expressed in Deism.2 Still others would argue that the Declaration is neither an explicitly Christian document nor a Deistic one, but contains elements of both.3 The practical issue at the basis of the debate over the Declaration is whether or not it is an essential (or useful) instrument for Christians to use in their efforts to arrest America's slide into moral chaos and tyranny, and to turn the country back to its Christian foundations.

The Nature of the Declaration

The Declaration is important in American history, but it should not be made into something that it was not. Some would make the Declaration into the fundamental statement of the principles upon which America was founded. Others contend that it is a legal document having the force of law. In line with this, there is a popular view today that states that the Declaration is related to the U.S. Constitution in the same way that an organization's articles of incorporation are related to its by-laws. Thus, they would accord the Declaration a legal tie to the Constitution and an authoritative standing in the interpretation of the Constitution.

But the Declaration of Independence was not specifically any of these. It was a political instrument designed to achieve some very distinct purposes: 1) to sever the political bonds between the colonies and England, and to justify such action to the nations of Europe (so as to secure their aid in the coming struggle with England); and 2) to unite the colonies through a carefully worded affirmation of political principles. As Gary North states: "The Declaration had two primary goals: to serve as a unifying statement of principle for the diversified thirteen colonies, and to serve as a propaganda tract for foreign policy."4

Declaration of Independence as Moral and Constitutional Law: Whatever Happened to the Bible? by Kevin Clauson


The purpose of this article is to deal with a very narrow issue regarding the Declaration of Independence, an issue raised by a Christian economic policy organization and by two prominent Presbyterians (along with a variety of other adherents).1 The idea has become a small (but not very successful) movement to use the Declaration of Independence and its principles as a legal tool to bring morality to the public arena. It is an important movement because it signals an ongoing desire by many evangelicals to avoid reliance on biblical principles and biblical laws and yet see America enjoy the fruits of a Christian nation.2 I believe this is vanity (although a somewhat unique vanity), and I will explain why this is so.3

The Position

The position of the "Declaration Movement" (for lack of a better term to describe the group I am critiquing) can be summarized by the following points:

1. The Declaration of Independence has a legal connection to the Constitution, and together they form the "Organic Laws" of the United States; hence, they should be read together by legislators and judges.

2. The Declaration provides moral laws that should be enforced by legislatures and courts. These moral laws are derived from the Declaration's "self-evident truths" (often called "transcendent truths" by the advocates) and the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."

3. These moral laws are neither based on nor derived from natural law or any particular religion (even Christianity). It would, according to this group, be wrong to base human law on any religion. The Declaration's precepts are "self-evident" to all.4

To give the reader a better understanding of what this movement believes, I will set forth a number of selective quotations from Robert Cannada, which accurately represent the position espoused:

The government--federal, state, and local--will recognize the existence of absolutes. Yet it will be thoroughly understood that none of these absolutes constitute any part of any particular religion or religions--they involve moral truths and principles only--and that no particular religion is to be intertwined into the fabric of the government.... These moral laws predate any particular religion. Accordingly, to request or advise that officeholders perform their official duties in accordance with the beliefs of a particular wrong.... Some have classified the history of Western Civilization as a war between those attempting to intertwine "truths" into government, sometimes classified as Christian Constitutionalism (rule by Christians), and those who wanted a government free of any religious involvement.... The Religious Absolutists believe that the government should base its decisions upon the moral truths adhered to by their religion.... The Relativists do not acknowledge the existence of any absolutes (i.e., transcendent moral truths).... Thus there is no hope of a compromise agreement. There is no common ground. The existence of the principles of the Declaration of Independence must be acknowledged and then honored by all officeholders (Relativists and Absolutists [i.e., Christian Constitutionalists--K.C.]). This will provide a common ground [italics in original] consisting of transcendent truths and principles from which our officeholders can govern the affairs of this nation and eliminate the "war" [between the Christian Constitutionalists and the Relativists--K.C.].5

This is the essence of the Declaration Movement from the words of one of its strongest proponents. Clearly, this group deplores the moral state of America today and sincerely desires to find a legal solution (and a "realistic" one). They are Christians who do want to see the Gospel prosper in America. However, there are fatal errors in the position of the Declaration Movement which make it unworkable and, in fact, dangerous.

The Critique

I do not substantially disagree with the premise that the Declaration (or the Constitution) was not designed to create a distinctly or explicitly Christian (i.e., "theonomic"7) national government; although some generalized elements of broad Christianity were certainly assumed, given the tenor of the times. Nor do I disagree that the Declaration alludes to truths that are supposedly transcendent to man; although the content cannot be so easily divorced from natural law theory and/or Lockean natural rights theory, or a synthesis of the two. What is objectionable is how this theory would use the Declaration as both moral law (source) and constitutional law (process), all without a hint of the true transcendent truth, Christianity. What are the specific problems associated with this Declaration movement? There are four in number.

1. It is disingenuous. While the Declaration is not an overtly biblical document establishing an overtly biblical regime, and while it does contain a preponderance of rationalistic ideas, historical analyses indicate that there were Christian influences permeating many of the basic ideas of the Declaration. The ideas of a higher law to which man's law is subject, of God-given rights, of the right of the lesser magistrates to resist tyranny, and others are in harmony with biblical truth; however, they may cease to be so if defined by anti-Christian specifics. The Declaration did not establish a Christian state per se, but neither did it speak against such among the "Independent States" (the former colonies).

2. It is unconstitutional. There is no legitimate way to make the Declaration constitutional law. The Declaration may help us understand some portions of the Constitution. But that does not make it constitutional law. The Declaration does not have the elements of a constitution, which is, to put it simply, a law that governs the governors. The Declaration does not establish a structure of government, nor does it "legalize" any rights.

The Declaration Movement seems to be saying that without their self-evident truths from the Declaration there would be no legal mechanism to bring morality to law. That has never been true. The states, under the original Constitution, specifically the Tenth Amendment (the state's rights clause), have virtually absolute authority to "regulate morality" within their jurisdiction, notwithstanding subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to the contrary.8 The state governments, if they had the will, could outlaw abortion, end "gay rights," end publicly funded education, and institute a myriad of other laws. It is not a lack of constitutional tools that prevents this (and thus motivating the calls to use the Declaration instead, or in addition), but rather a lack of political and moral will, caused by a lack of biblical Christianity, along with a good dose of gross judicial misinterpretation of the "original" Constitution.

Nor Is The Declaration of Independence as a Whole a Preamble to the Constitution as Some Have Claimed

Objections Admitting the Principle Involved, but Urged Against The Expediency of the Movement.

Objection 1. The Constitution already acknowledges God.

The objector says, substantially: "The proposed amendment is just and proper, but it is unnecessary. God and Christianity are now acknowledged in the fundamental law of the nation." And what is the proof of such acknowledgment? The word oath, a passing reference to the Christian Sabbath in the clause, "Sundays excepted," making the Sabbath a dies non in the reckoning of days during which the Resident may retain a bill for approval, the mention of the common law, and the formula of date. These are all. They hardly require notice. It may be said in brief, however, that the mention of the Sabbath is simply an incidental allusion, an evidence, indeed, that there was a Sabbath known; but it is no acknowledgment of the obligation of the Sabbath. The dating again is no part of the instrument. It merely marks the time. And more than all else, the name of God was excluded from the form of the President's oath, incorporated in the Constitution. Can these features of the Constitution, with a mention of the common law, be regarded as an adequate acknowledgment of the nation's subjection to God and his government? It is now almost universally admitted that they are not religious acknowledgments at all. So completely devoid is our Constitution of any religious character that multitudes of both infidels and Christians agree in stating that it is no more Christian than Mohammedan. As Ex-President Woolsey declared in his paper read before the Evangelical Alliance, it needs no change to adapt it to a Mohammedan nation. Admiring, as we do, the many excellencies of our Constitution, we are constrained to admit this sad defect. If it is still claimed that an acknowledgment of God and Chris-


tianity is in the Constitution, it must also be admitted that such an acknowledgment, now dimly there at best, should be made so clear and explicit that no room may be left for doubt. What is there rightfully ought to be there indisputably.*


* For another remark In this connection, see last page

[the following is the last page referenced]

Since the foregoing pages were stereotyped the First Objection has been brought to our notice in another form by an eminent citizen of New England. He says "The Declaration of Independence is really the, full Preamble of the Constitution. It sets forth sentiments and principles; the Constitution follows it with rules and regulations. That document, at the outset, declares it to be a self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with all their rights; and closes with an appeal 'to the Supreme Judge of the World.'"

We are fully sensible of the value of these expressions in the Declaration. They prove that the nation then owned her allegiance to God. They vindicate her right, now strenuously denied, to acknowledge God in public documents. They show that what we propose is consistent with the spirit and example of our fathers, in the noblest passages of our history. But we must clearly distinguish between these two documents. The Declaration is not part of the written Constitution. Its value is historical rather than legal. It is a deed of the nation which has passed into history; the Constitution, as a law, is an ever-present act of the nation's will.. The argument which is drawn from the silence of the Constitution concerning God and Religion against all Christian features of our government as contrary to " our political covenant," nut covered by the bond, cannot be adequately met by an appeal in the Declaration of 1776.

Source of Information:

The Christian Statesman Tracts No. 6, Answers to Objections to the Religious Amendment of the United States Constitution. By the Rev. D. M'allister. (1874)

Concluding Remarks: The Declaration in Modern Context

What place does the Declaration of Independence have in modern political discourse? Is it a basis for the formulation of law and public policy? Are its principles still binding? Are its themes preserved in the Constitution? Does it aid in interpreting the religion clauses? What does it contribute to the debate over original intent?

The first thing that can clearly be stated about the Declaration is that it is not law. That is, none of its provisions can be law unless enacted into law. The Declaration is inspiring, but its most inspirational parts today remain in the realm of politics, not law. It mostly represents a ringing statement of political philosophy from a past age. The Declaration did not purport to create a new government or to enact any new laws. The bulk of it is exactly what it claimed to be: an announcement to the world of American reasons for renouncing its ties to Great Britain. New governments and new laws were created later-in state constitutions and the Articles of Confederation.

The present Constitution depends on the Declaration's theory that the people are empowered to alter their form of government. The Constitution was not ratified under the procedures for amending the Articles of Confederation but instead by a new and independent act of the American people. The people today could again abandon their Constitution and adopt an entirely new one. They need not use the Constitution's amendment procedures unless they wish to leave the present Constitution in effect."

Constitutional interpretation is aided little by the Declaration. The thirteen years between the adoption of the Declaration and the ratification of the Constitution was a period of intense political change. The Declaration's loose, free-wheeling philosophy of the people's "rights," preserved to a large degree in the Articles of Confederation, gradually gave way to the Constitution's more structured framework that was necessary to support a strong national government. if today we find tensions between the Declaration and the Constitution, it is mostly because new views had come to prevail. Throughout the debates of the Convention, there was virtually no discussion of Nature's God, natural rights, or consent of the governed. As Roger Sherman understood it, the question was "not what rights naturally belong to man, but how they may be most equally and effectually guarded in society." The Declaration cannot change the meaning of the Constitution; at most it can make proposed interpretations seem more or less plausible."

The Declaration might be helpful in construing the Ninth Amendment, which provides, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." Though it is largely ignored in modern constitutional adjudication, this clause writes the Declaration's philosophy of unalienable natural law rights into positive law. The Declaration is too broadly written, however, to be of much help in defining the content of these unenumerated rights.

Source of Information:

Religion and the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Contributions to Original Intent. Derek H. Davis. Oxford University Press, (2000) pp 112-113.

Nedstat Counter