And we also learned from the previous installment that this intricate relationship between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence that we are talking about is no vicarious result, no accident. No, that relationship was anticipated by our Founders, and is the product of intelligent design.
But today, we will look at the term, 'self-government,' how that term derives with respect to America's founding documents, and how it relates to the type of government America instituted under the Constitution.
One common misconception is that any particular nation’s sovereignty is recognizable only upon the establishment of a formal national government. On the contrary, as of the signing of the Declaration, The United States of America existed as a sovereign nation, but it had no formal government. That fact demonstrates the very heart of the American Theory. The United States of America is governed by its people, and with the consent of those same people. Lincoln referred to that concept as “self government,” or government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Within the Declaration of Independence is a statement of steering ideals. Those ideals steer because they authorize. They authorize only certain actions, certain 'roads' for the government to take. These ideals are like guardrails on the highway. They do not allow America to venture far off course before America runs out of authority. For that reason, they tend to steer the American government only to act according to the ideals of the declaration. American authority may therefore be thought of as 'ideal authority,' the authority that is derives from striving for perfection, the perfect state of government, self-government.
Ideally, people who understand that they are all created with equal rights with respect to their lives, their freedom and their daily pursuit of happiness, should all be able to get along together, work together, play together, respecting each others' rights, as they would have theirs respected. In such a neighborhood, or town, or city, or even such a nation, no formal governing body would be necessary. The Declaration of Independence is a description of an ideal world. The Declaration of Independence is a description of life in Heaven; or perhaps more accurately described as life should be
'on earth...as It Is In Heaven.'
Knowing however that, practically speaking, the American ideals could never be lived to, one reasonable question might be to ask the tangible benefit that such a statement of ideals could bring to those who might subscribe to them. Lincoln offers us his opinion. He steadfastly maintained that in stating the ideals as they did in the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers:
set up a standard maxim for free society, which could be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.They used the assertion that “all men are created equal” as:
a stumbling block to those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism,for if:
such (despots) should re appear in this fair land and commence their vocation they should find left for them at least one hard nut to crack.One, two, three.
So in an ideal world, self-government requires no formal common governing structure. In that world, everyone always does the right thing, respecting each others' rights, helping each other through life. But the founding fathers knew that life in America, populated by a people who were subject to the corrupting influences living a natural world with limited resources, though those people might live under the bright promise of the “blessings of liberty,” that life could never approach the common conception of “Heaven.” Understanding that in that world, Americans could not on a daily basis live up to the ideals of the Declaration, in authorizing that document, the 'good people of the colonies,' through their representatives, authorized their successors to approximate those ideals in a practical, livable governing mechanism. The founders authorized that pursuit expressing one certain 'self-evident truth' in the Declaration, one that their successors could utilize to authorize a formal governing structure. According to the Declaration, in order to
secure these [human] rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.Acting with the authority implied by that truth, the Founders' successors subsequently justified the authority necessary to create the present day constitutional document and United States Government. Some disagree, saying that the Constitution authorizes itself and needs no authority from any previous agreement. Well, that cannot be, and here is why. In its preamble, the Constitution invokes its source of authority. That authority is “We the People of the United States.” But “The United States” to which “the People” refer, as we have demonstrated in previous installments, was itself created with the primal American authority first reasoned to exist in the Declaration of Independence. And so we can know that the authority for the Constitution is the same authority for the Declaration of Independence.
And because it is the same authority, subject to the same conditions, which conditions are synonymous with original theoretical intentions of the people represented by the Founders, the Constitution can be understood to be an authoritative document only when understood, even in the most theoretical sense, as pursuing those same original intentions. And therefore, the authority to have even proposed the Constitution for ratification demonstrates a link to the solitary source of primal American authority only when understood to have been an effort to fulfill of those same original intentions. Recognizing the derivative nature of the authority distributed within the American government by the instrument known as the Constitution, one is therefore forced to recognize that the United States as a national body of sovereign authority, its Constitution and republican system of government all depend on the ideal principles of the Declaration of Independence as their sole and thus “primal” source of authority.
Furthermore, by “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions,” the Founders established (quite brilliantly) that only “the Supreme Judge of the world” possessed sufficient authority to judge their assertions of truth, their motivations and actions. Having aligned their new system of human cooperation to respect the intentions of God, as the Founders understood those intentions from the Scriptures, all-powerful God theoretically underwrites the Peoples’ authority to carry out their ideal purposes, which by definition are God's purposes on earth. Thus, in summary, according to the Founders’ theory, the Creator underwrites the authority conveyed from the “good People of the colonies,” to their representatives, to carry out the ideal intentions announced in the Declaration of Independence. In this elevated sense, God underwrites those intentions because they are ideal. Those intentions are perfect in the eyes of God. Those intentions theoretically align with His intentions and therefore are not subject to debate by mere men. For this reason,
The Declaration of Independence, as the nation’s charter, is the superior state document of the United States of America. The pursuit of the People’s original ideal intentions as expressed or directly implied in the Declaration is the only legitimate source of primal authority for the American nation's government. The Union of States and Constitution were founded with and depend on that source of primal authority.
Note that since its ratification, the Constitution has been changed 27 times. Therefore, in a certain sense, the American system of government has been changed 27 times. But each time, no matter what the circumstances or theme of the revision, the basic purpose of each amendment has been the same, and that is “to form a more perfect union.” The term, 'perfect' in the Constitution's preamble refers to the perfect description of human cooperation in the Declaration of Independence, perfect self-government, perfect in the eyes of God.
Even the term, 'good,' which in the Declaration describes the 'people of the colonies' those who authorized their representatives to sign that document, expresses the notion of the ideal. The 'good people of the colonies' were 'good' only because they intended to fulfill God's will in declaring independence for their new nation under God. Christian Scriptures require that 'good' is 'good' only if God agrees that it is 'good.' 'Good' in God's eyes is nothing short of perfection. So the 'good people' are 'good' because they intended their new nation to pursue perfection in God's sight, fulfilling God's will on earth.
But whereas the Constitution has changed many times, the Declaration of Independence never changes and it never will. The Declaration of Independence is the description of the founders’ perfect theoretical union in an ideal sense, one that the Constitution can only approximate in a practical sense. Whereas the Declaration is the vision, the Constitution is the vehicle. Whereas the Declaration shows the path, the Constitution makes the path. During such occasions that the Constitution may turn away from America’s founding principles, the Declaration is the shining light just over the hill that lets America understand when the Constitution has wandered astray. Without the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution has little meaning. The Declaration is the meaning; the Constitution is the means. The Declaration of Independence is, in an ideal sense, what the Constitution is in a practical sense. Yet both documents have the same purpose. And that is the purpose of, in the end, creating a perfect union, perfect in the eyes of God.
In the next installment of America IS A Christian Nation, I will extend these remarks and contrast the American version of the perfect union with certain other unions which depend on authority from God.
Thanks very much for your readership!