The difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution

I’m always surprised by Americans who don’t know the difference between these two documents, so here’s a brief summary:

The Declaration was written by Thomas Jefferson and signed in 1776, with John Hancock’s signature prominent.

This is the document that says, basically, “Hey King George! Screw you!” It starts off 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.” (Or, to be more concise, “Here’s why we’re leaving, asshole.”)

The Declaration also has the famous sentence “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Neither of those sentences can be found in the Constitution.

The Constitution came eleven years later, after the war was won. It was mostly written by James Madison. Alexander Hamilton played a huge role in this as well, especially thanks to the Federalist Papers he wrote (along with Madison and John Jay, who later became the first Supreme Court Chief Justice). These treatises not only helped to convince the states to pass the Constitution, but the ones from Hamilton were also amazingly poetic and even danceable, because he was not giving up his shot. Thomas Jefferson’s writings were influential but he was prohibited from attending the discussions on the Constitution, mostly because he was in France at the time.

But here’s where the confusion really sets in: Stupid people point to the attack on the Capitol and other violent acts against our government and say that rebelling against the government like that is their “right.”

Well, no. No, it isn’t.

The Declaration of Independence was aimed at a specific person, named in the document. It says that we have the right to rebel against a king, a dictator, a tyrant.

The Constitution talks about democracy. You don’t have the right to rebel against a democracy under our Constitution, because we have other means of changing things, through elections and our laws. The Constitution specifically says such action against the United States is treason and punishable, and the Founding Fathers all agreed. (Just look up “The Whiskey Rebellion” and see how the Founders dealt with this kind of treason in our early years.)

Attacking the Capitol when you don’t get your way is the most unAmerican thing you can do. These idiots who claim to be “patriots” while destroying property and killing police officers are deluded and insane.

And on this July 4th weekend, we need to remember that.

The cover of my book “How to Argue the Constitution with a Conservative,” a small portion of which is in this post. Artwork by Darrin Bell

One thought on “The difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution

  1. Nice post, Mike. I always look for new stuff to learn when you post, but this time it was all well-known and comforting. Like you, I lament more of our citizenry throughout the political spectrum had a better grasp of the purpose, content, and intentions of each document.

    I did have a interesting thought as you made the accurate comparison, though.

    This is similar to comparing Martin Luther’s 95 Theses to the Augsburg Confession. Martin Luther wrote the first, bringing to light his grievances with the practices of the Roman Catholic Church—particularly indulgences—but contained no formal doctrine or confessions. It was more a plea to “Clean up your act, Pope!” than a breaking of ties. (Which happened anyway.) It was, unlike the Declaration, a call to reform. Hence, the beginning of the Reformation.

    The Augsburg Confession, formally submitted to the Roman Catholic Church 13 years later, was a summation of confessions and doctrines upon which the Lutheran Church pastors were willing to die. “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me, God. Amen.” (Quote attributed to Luther at the Diet of Worms, which isn’t really known,) The Augsburg Confession was not written by Luther since he had been declared an outlaw and his life was forfeit, but it was the basis of the Lutheran Church and the grounding of the Reformation.

    Like the Declaration and the Constitution, both of these documents had and still have a great impact on the world centuries later.


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