Friday, June 10, 2011

No Rick, the Declaration of Independence is not printed in the Constitution

As an attorney in my day job, there is little that annoys me more than hearing politicians, many of whom are also attorneys, butcher the United States Constitution. While Rick Santorum has frequently used the phrase "original intent of the founders", he avoided it in his presidential kickoff speech. As such, I'll deal with the utter ridiculousness of that phrase at a later date.

But Santorum's kickoff speech did include one of my other pet peeves that many on the right have been guilty of recently: using the Declaration of Independence either interchangeably with or to make a point about the Constitution. To paraphrase the relevant part of his campaign kickoff speech, Santorum said that he loved the Tea Partiers waving their Constitutions around, since according to Mr. Santorum waving the Constitution around is apparently more important than reading it. He continued to claim, "But in that Constitution that they hold up, is another document that’s always printed there. It’s the Declaration of Independence." Then Santorum went on the standard right wing babble about what life, liberty and pursuit of happiness mean. Of course, according the Santorum they mean cutting government spending, cutting taxes on the wealthy, and prohibiting gay marriage and abortion.

My first question is what exactly did Santorum mean by saying that the Declaration of Independence was printed "there?" Does he mean that the Declaration is in the Constitution? Guess what Rick, it isn't. It isn't referenced. And in the Constitution, the term "life" is only used once to describe the punishment for being convicted of treason, the term "Liberty" is used once in the preamble and is not defined, and the phrase "pursuit of happiness" does not appear at all.

This is not intended to diminish the symbolic importance of the Declaration of Independence. Symbolically, it's an extraordinarily important historical document, and clearly U.S. citizens view its opening lines as a basic description of the country's aspirations. From a legal perspective, though, all the Declaration of Independence does is declare the former 13 colonies' independence from England. It does not state what type of government the United States uses. It does not define the relationships between the federal government and its citizens. It just declares independence from England. It is, instead, the Constitution that prescribes our form of federal government and that federal government's relationship with the states and its citizens. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, while the Declaration of Independence is not law at all.

But why did Rick Santorum, and so many others on the right, use the language of the Declaration instead of the Constitution's? I believe the answer is in the preamble: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." It's harder to seriously argue that the Constitution's actual language calls for cutting spending, lowering taxes, preventing gay people from marrying whom they choose, and prohibiting abortion. But since when does a little thing like facts prevent people like Rick Santorum from saying whatever they want to?

5 comments:

  1. I don't know you, but I love you already for this blog post. And, of course, its URL-that's primary.

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  2. Much appreciated! Hope you continue to enjoy my posts.

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  3. Ian, I enjoyed your post, but I must take issue with the fourth paragraph in which you state that "it just declares independence from England"and imply the Declaration of Independence is symbolic. By implying that it is symbolic, you do diminish the importance of the Declaration of Independence.
    Independence was declared in a resolution approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 2, 1776. What we commonly refer to as the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4, 1776 and explained the reasons for independence. It justified the American Revolution. Most importantly, it lays the foundation for liberty and rights. Compare the Constitution's preamble to the first paragraph of the Declaration: "We hold these truths to be self evident , That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty & 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 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."
    The important point is that the Declaration establishes the basis of rights, liberty, and self government. It is a brilliant document! The Constitution secures those rights. Keep this distinction between the Declaration and Constitution in mind when someone waves the Constitution around in attempts to argue that you don't have a right because it's not in the Constitution. Certain rights are inalienable. That means you have them and no one can take them away Constitution or not. After two centuries and one Civil War, many Americans still don't get it. They are still attempting to use the Constitution to deny liberty to others. That is the hypocrisy and contradiction of social conservatism.

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  4. Btw, I'm looking forward to your upcoming post on "original intent of the founders."

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  5. a lot of people don't understand the difference between the constitution and the declaration of independence, those people should not be holding public office however

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