The Annotated Declaration of Independence

It’s a little late for the 4th of July, but it’s something that’s good to have in your pocket anytime: Law professor Randy Barnett explains the significance of the Declaration of Independence line-by-line, starting with:

“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 and 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.”  This first sentence is often forgotten.  It asserts that Americans as a whole (and not as members of their respective colonies) are a distinct “people.”  To “dissolve the political bands” revokes the “social compact” that existed between the Americans and the rest of “the People” of the British commonwealth, which resumes the “state of nature” between Americans and the government of Great Britain, and “the Laws of Nature” are then the standard by which this dissolution and whatever government is to follow are judged.  “Declare the causes” indicates they are publicly stating the reasons and justifying their actions rather than being thieves in the night. The Declaration is like the indictment of a criminal that states the basis of his criminality.  But the ultimate judge of the rightness of their cause will be God, which is why the revolutionaries spoke of an “appeal to heaven”—an expression commonly found on revolutionary banners and flags.   As British political theorist John Locke wrote: “The people have no other remedy in this, as in all other cases where they have no judge on earth, but to appeal to heaven.”

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