The Declaration of Independence and Constitutional Interpretation

By James P. Allen

What role does the Declaration have in constitutional interpretation, if any?

When it comes to understanding the meaning of the Constitution, many Americans don’t give the Declaration of Independence the first thought. But some argue that as the founding American document, everything hangs on it, and we must interpret the Constitution exclusively through the Declaration. They view the Constitution and the government it created as a mechanism through which we realize principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence. 


Historical Ignorance: The War of 1861 Established Federal Dominance

The victors of war write its history in order to cast themselves in the most favorable light. That explains the considerable historical ignorance about our war of 1861 and panic over the Confederate flag. To create better understanding, we have to start a bit before the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.


The Founders Urged Resistance, not “slavish” obedience

“That the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive to the good and happiness of mankind.”
– North Carolina Ratification Document

Short version – violations of your liberty shouldn’t be met with anything but resistance. We call it nullification – by states, localities and individuals.


Did the Civil War End State Sovereignty?

The short answer to your question is that the Civil War had no effect on state sovereignty and nullification, at least not legally. Some people may point to the Fourteenth Amendment as evidence that the federal government acquired expansive new powers over the states, but that argument doesn’t hold weight when scrutinized closely.


Thomas Jefferson on the Military Draft: “The last of all oppressions”

Sometimes it comes down to the question of what is more important, the rights of individuals or the existence of the nation state? In this case, in the face of serious difficulties faced by the colonists in their war against the British Empire, Jefferson came down on the side of individual liberty.


Matthew Lyon: The Sedition Act’s First Victim

The freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental rights we possess.  This basic natural right is not contingent upon laws or social traditions.  Essentially, it is nothing short of inalienable and universal between all peoples at all times.  However, in practice, it seldom observed as such.  From the early Tolerance Act of 1689 to current “Free Speech Zones” across American universities, men have tried to quell this freedom.