Let’s start with a shocking, but true premise: If you are a patriotic American, you believe that there are circumstances under which it is right to take up arms against your own government. That statement feels wrong to me. It reeks of militia and McVeigh and toothless loons holed up with guns in cabins in order to avoid paying income taxes.
But the fact remains that the rationale for the existence of the nation known as the United States of America, which first appeared in print 236 years ago today, is entirely dependent on the premise that there are indeed times “…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 that such times may require the first group of people to “…mutually pledge to each other [their] Lives, [their] Fortunes and [their] sacred Honor.” And that having dissolved those political bands with another people, the newly liberated people (“…and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War…”) may, among other things, protect themselves from a tyrannical power which engages in “…a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object [which] evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism…"
This is the argument presented to the world by Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin. It was adopted and approved by the Continental Congress. It has been graphically represented in the Great Seal of the United States and it is treated as the origin of the American Republic not just in the Declaration of Independence itself, but also in the Constitution.
That last truth has been denied both by legal positivists on the left and by paleo-conservatives on the right, both intending to sever the Constitution from its roots in natural law, but for differing reasons. The legal positivists want to liberate the courts from the shackles of natural law, so that they might reinvent the American Republic. The Old Right wanted to sever the Constitution from the impetus of natural law which they believed would be used to create new ‘rights’ which would be imposed by judicial tyranny. I debated Robert Bork on this question several years ago and he was very strong in his insistence that the Constitution did not acknowledge the Declaration. The problem with that assertion is that it is contradicted by the concluding section of the Constitution itself, which states that it was “…Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Indep