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Which is more authoritative, the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution?

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Brutus posted on Sat, Apr 9 2011 6:17 AM

If one reads the Declaration of Independence or the Articles of Confederation and compares it with the U.S. Constitution, he can't help but notice an immense difference in terminology and proposed governmental structure. Although the Declaration of Independence doesn't give a particular governmental structure, it does give a lot of "it ain't gonna be this way or that way," and that spirit manifested itself in the Articles, though most importantly it proclaims America's freedom from the rule of King George III.

Though with the adoption of the Constitution, a schism emerges that exists between the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the intention of the Constitution. For example:

Declaration of Independence "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"

U.S.Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 15) "[The Congress shall have Power] to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions."

In the Civil War, I suppose that the North justified their tirade on the South by enforcing Article 4, Section 3 due to a divergence and re-defining of the Union. But was the South actually breaking any constitutional laws by seceding? The Constitution says nothing about the states not having the ability to form their own union by indirectly restricting the current one. In considering Article I, Section 8, Clause 15 in particular, would the South's secession qualify as insurrection? I don't think it would since the creation of their own union would not qualify.

Now the philosophical question: even if the South's secession were unconstitutional, would it have been illegal when considering the authority of the Declaration of Independence in stating 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"?

If you're American, which do you hold to have more authority: the very document that officially granted American citizens independence and freedom or the current constitution that seeks to preserve the bond of the current union through legal means?  

"Is life so dear or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?" -Patrick Henry

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Brutus:
Do you believe the earth is round or flat? I'm not being sarcastic, either; I mean to say that relativism has always intrigued me, and in philosophy classes we discussed such things. Just curious to see your take.

I don't know whether it is round or flat.  I am a skeptic.  And I am not being sarcastic either.  In a court based on facts, I would not be able to testify about the shape of the earth, because I have no personal first hand knowledge of it.  Most of my knowledge of the world is hearsay.

Brutus:
I've found that relativists are frequently eager to avoid committing to such things that people take for granted, though according to many of your comments on the forums, you don't like when people beat around the bush with answers. Perhaps a more appropriate question would be, what do you believe in? Are you a nihilist?

I believe in rational self-interest.

Brutus:
I'm an absolutist on many things, though usually only things concerning science and ethics (though not 100%, of course, so maybe not so much an absolutist, lol). I believe the earth is round, I believe in God, I believe that theft and cheating are wrong, et cetera, so I'm certainly not a nihilist. Just curious.

I care less what you believe, and more why you believe it.  Everyone has preferences, everyone makes value judgments.  I am trying to figure out how to improve mine by emulating others who I feel have a better understanding than I do, when I am unable to deduce these things for myself.

I'm really not sure what you're getting at, but I have come at you pretty good a couple times, and you're probably entitled to ask me a few questions and receive responsive answers in return.  You're welcome to pursue this a bit further if you like.

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
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It's all just mythical paper.

If that is a valid argument don't be shocked if it used against mystical austrian economics and free market papers

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Live_Free_Or_Die:
If that is a valid argument don't be shocked if it used against mystical austrian economics and free market papers

It is a valid argument.  No Austrian should be appealing to the spiritual power of Human Action.

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
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LeeO replied on Tue, Apr 12 2011 5:49 PM

Do you have proof that the framers were granted authority?

I'm not sure. They created the US Government after the Revolutionary War, so chances are they were granted the authority to do this.

Who were they?

The people who wrote and signed the Declaration, and the delegates at the Constitutional Convention.

If someone has granted authority that is theirs to give, then that does justify rulers.

So what you're getting at (I think) is that authority isn't anyone's to give, so rulers are not justified....hmmm, interesting. Authority is not given - it is taken with force. And nobody is justified in taking authority through violence.

Why presume the earth is round when flat earth has always been the norm and will continue to be for some time?

Reasoning and logic, which reveal the truth.

 

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LeeO replied on Tue, Apr 12 2011 5:54 PM

Authority comes only from people who submit to it, usually in the form of one person or group attempting to claim authority over another person or group, and most often with aggression.

Does authority come from the people with the guns, or the people who submit to those with the guns?

In the case of the United States, authority comes via the gun or threat of imprisonment, not the Constitution.  The Constitution and the laws of the United States are involuntary.

I think that answers my question.

Would you agree that the authority to impose the involuntary laws of the United States ultimately came from victory on the battlefield?

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LeeO replied on Tue, Apr 12 2011 6:00 PM

Contracts are mutual, voluntary agreements recorded for the purpose of resolving disputes after the agreement has been made.  The contract describes the agreement being made by the idividuals involved.  The agreement is real.  The paper is just an image of the agreement at that particular point in time.  Should the parties entertain revision in their agreement, then they may alter the contract or ammend it.  Both the original agreement and any changes could have been made without a formal written contract, and be legitimate.  Whereas a contract without the original agreement is just a piece of paper.  This is why contracts are signed, witnessed and notorized.

The Declaration of Independence is not a contract.  It's simply a declaration.

The U.S. Constitution is not a contract.  It's a document defining the structure and powers of the U.S. Government.  There are some who worship it as a contract.

Thanks for answering my question.

What do you mean by the word "legitimate" when you say that agreements can be legitimate without a formal written contract? Isn't the paper necessary for the agreement to be recognized by a judge, jury, or arbitrator attempting to resolve a dispute?

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LeeO:
I'm not sure. They created the US Government after the Revolutionary War, so chances are they were granted the authority to do this.

By whom?

LeeO:

If someone has granted authority that is theirs to give, then that does justify rulers.

So what you're getting at (I think) is that authority isn't anyone's to give, so rulers are not justified....hmmm, interesting. Authority is not given - it is taken with force. And nobody is justified in taking authority through violence.

Rulers are justified if they have authority.  If you say, "I want to form a government," and I agree, and we elect Brutus to be our President that is fine.

If you say, "I want to form a government", and I disagree, and you choose Brutus to rule both of us, that is not fine.

Consent is necessary to form a government.

LeeO:
Reasoning and logic, which reveal the truth.

Precisely.  So please don't appeal to tradition or history.

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
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It's not victory on the battlefield that establishes authority of one group to rule over another.  It's the use of force or the threat of force against any who would not accept that authority under conditions where force or coercion is not utilized.  The state's dependency on the individual to submit to such aggression is what is required.  If enough individuals resist, then the state cannot function regardless of any piece of paper that they may cite grants them authority over others.  This is why the gun or the threat of imprisonment are the only tools of the state to coerce people to accept their authority.  That authority exists only in the minds of those who have accepted it, and ends the moment people stop accepting it.  Authority is a fabrication of the conscious mind, and nothing more.

The American colonies were given a broad range of home rule by the British.  The power structure in America was in place long before the American Revolution.  This power structure was formed by the use of force or coercion, and there were several attempts by individuals and groups to break free of it.  Read Rothbard's Conceived in Liberty for more on that.  The American Revolution was a dispute over the monopoly of force in the territory which became known as the United States.  This was a state vs. state conflict.  The states continued to rule as they had done prior to the military conflict, albeit without the taxes to the crown and restrictions on trade.  The Constitution was an agreement among the states on the formation of a federal government, and was created to centralize power and provide opportunities for the politically affluent.

The use of aggression or fraud to achieve a means to an end is not legitimate.

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K.C. Farmer:
Authority is a fabrication of the conscious mind, and nothing more.

Excellent.

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
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LeeO:

Do you have proof that the framers were granted authority?

I'm not sure. They created the US Government after the Revolutionary War, so chances are they were granted the authority to do this.

Here's a quick run-down on the alleged "authority" here:

After explorers discovered and explored coastal North America, England (among other countries) granted charters to certain groups to found colonies. Since the colonies were chartered, that meant they were under the legal domain of England. The colonial governments that were established existed at the mercy of the English Crown and Parliament.

When the War for Independence came, the notion used in justifying independence was that the authority of the colonial governments had actually come from "the people" of those colonies. In a strict legal sense, this does not follow. The colonial governments had no authority that did not derive from the English government. Now where did the English government's authority come from? History shows that it comes from the Norman Conquest of 1066. The argument of the revolutionaries would have been stronger had they appealed to the illegitimacy of the English government's claims of authority, as those claims were (and are!) ultimately based on conquest.

My point here is that the colonial governments had no independent authority by any standard aside from that of pure fiat. Of course, the entire issue hinges on the definition of "authority" being used.

Anyways, in the aftermath of the War for Independence, the former colonial governments usurped sovereignty (and the authority it was presumed to entail) for themselves - they declared themselves to be "free and independent States". They also drafted an agreement for mutual aid called the Articles of Confederation. When that proved to be too limiting and inexpedient for the powers that be, they formed a convention to reform the Articles. That turned into a revolution within a revolution, leading to the U.S. Constitution. Less than a century later, the "free and independent States" found that the authority they had usurped for themselves had been in turn usurped by something that was now outside of them.

So where did the authority come from, again?

LeeO:
So what you're getting at (I think) is that authority isn't anyone's to give, so rulers are not justified....hmmm, interesting. Authority is not given - it is taken with force. And nobody is justified in taking authority through violence.

That's the gist of it. Of course, no one can prove any such justification. It's a matter of belief.

The keyboard is mightier than the gun.

Non parit potestas ipsius auctoritatem.

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LeeO replied on Thu, Apr 14 2011 2:06 PM

By whom?

Ummm......

Rulers are justified if they have authority.  If you say, "I want to form a government," and I agree, and we elect Brutus to be our President that is fine.

So authority comes from an agreement. Employers have authority over employees because of labor contracts, for example. There's nothing wrong with a contractual government in which all parties sign on.

Where does the authority of a parent come from, then? Is parental rule unjustified if the child disagrees?

Consent is necessary to form a government.

So are governments formed without consent not governments at all, but merely criminal gangs?

Precisely.  So please don't appeal to tradition or history.

Okay. Maybe someday I'll understand logic and epistemology, so I won't have to rely on lazy appeals.

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Leo, I think you get it.  Think over your questions, you know the answers already.

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
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