In the blockbuster movie “National Treasure” starring Nicholas Cage, the Declaration of Independence was stolen by good guys to prevent the bad guys from stealing it. That’s Hollywood, but truth be known, it’s been stolen again — that and part of the original Constitution.
Oh, I don’t mean that activist judges have read between the lines and polluted the intent of the Founding Fathers. I mean literally gone. A little history, provided by Donald S. Lutz in his book “Origins of American Constitutionalism,” is vital here.
As the fledgling Pilgrim communities spread across New England in the late 1500s and early 1600s, the colonists recognized the need to maintain order and the status quo: they needed government. The instruments of colonial governance that began to emerge were codes of law, covenants, charters, compacts and proto-constitutions.
The colonists, still very loyal to the Crown of England, were cautious in assuming power unto themselves. Hence, those early governing documents demonstrated the colonists’ deference to the source of their right to self-determination: often the Crown via the Magna Carta, and mostly God via the Holy Bible.
Whether in a preamble, a bill of rights, or some other declaration, the colonists proclaimed this right and enunciated the religious values and common commitments that would form the underpinnings of their communities, laws and governing bodies.
These foundational documents were derived from the covenant tradition of the Old Testament: to wit, large groups of people create a governed society by common consent under the auspices of God. The shinning example was the 12 tribes of Israel who formed a nation united by a covenant with God.
One need only read these founding documents, including the state constitutions, to conclude that the colonists looked to God as the bestower of their right to self-govern, and as the higher source with whom they covenanted.
Having first established their right to self-determination in harmony with God and Crown, the framework of government, or the institutional description — i.e., the Constitution — was then written. These foundational elements together formed a compact. The Mayflower Compact is one such example.
Over time, however, the last document of the compact — the Constitution — took on a dominance over the other foundational elements, so much so that the entire document, or compact, became known as the Constitution.
“Compacts,” writes Lutz, “literally began to be called constitutions.”
Thus, what we now call our United States Constitution — the governing framework of the compact — was initially a companion part of the whole. The constitution was not intended to be a stand-alone document to the exclusion of the Declaration of Independence. It is terribly vital to understand that the Declaration of Independence is much more than a museum piece merely to be admired and photographed.
It is within the Declaration of Independence that we are granted the right to self-determination and the right to frame laws and form political bodies. It is within the Declaration of Independence that we covenant to federalize our communities and states under the acknowledgment and blessing of a higher source, no longer the Crown of England, but of “Divine Providence.” It is within the Declaration of Independence that our freedoms are granted by “Nature’s God” and that we are free to pursue “life liberty and happiness” as an “endowment” of the “Creator.”
Of all of the foundational elements — Preamble, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and Constitution — notice that it is the Constitution alone that has undergone changes by amendment. The Declaration of Independence, on the other hand, retains its original intent and purpose, and remains as pure as in the founders’ day.
Humanists, secularists, and others frightened by religion are bent on removing religious morality and Godly principles from the political sphere. Separation of Church and State is their rallying cry and they are quick to point out that the Constitution says nothing about God. Ah, but it does. The entire Constitution, or should we say Compact — including the Declaration of Independence, the covenant — has plenty to say about the role of “Divine Providence” in our public affairs.
Tim Flaherty is a resident of Gilbert.