According to British legal scholars the Declaration of Independence was an illegal act. That is the point and purpose of this article by BBC. Legal scholars from both the UK and the USA sat down at the American Philosophical Society to debate if the U.S. Declaration of Independence was legal. In the end the vote was in favor of American Independence, but the argument just shows how fall the intellectual ideas of our society have fallen in the last 200 years. Let’s look at the arguments made by the British.
NO LEGAL PRINCIPLE
The argument made by British scholars was that there was no legal principle for the American colonists to declare their independence. They forget the philosophy of Natural Law. Natural law is the philosophy of John Locke, from the Enlightenment that states people have a right to protect their life, liberty and property (Natural rights) from those who would violate those rights. Natural law is higher than any legal principle or statutory law; the idea of the Social Contract Theory. Under this principle the people have a right to join in societies and governments to protect their natural rights and make all laws on the basis of natural law. In Locke’s theory, Natural Law justified the people of a state to alter or abolish their government when it becomes tyrannical and don’t have authority to make the laws make them for the people. No government is legitimate without the “consent of the government,” which is what the people of the middle east are fighting for at this time.
The main argument of why there is doubt about the legal views of the British scholars. They say that Natural law is not a defined concept. It is clearly defined in numerous documents going back as far as the Ancient Roman philosophy Cicero. This is again the problem that most Constitutional “scholars.” They choose to ignore the facts that are clearly defined and established within the historical record. They make the claim that no one knows what the Founding Fathers meant by the phrases they used in the Constitution, but ignore the hundreds of thousands of writing of the Founder’s that show their intent in each phrase in the Constitution.
“No taxation without representation” was one of the major grievances that led to the American Revolution. Americans should have paid taxes to the British to help support the general defense of the colonies, the method they want about it was tyrannical. They taxed the colonist without any representation within Parliament which is a key aspect of any legitimate republican and democratic government. But besides this one grievance there were over twenty other grievances listed with the document, lets list the other ones that are trivial:
“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” Meaning he violated the the principles of Classic Republicanism of legislating for the common good of all people.
“He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature…” This is infringing on the people’s right to freedom of movement and denying them representation in government.
“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected.” The authority to dissolve the government belongs to the people, not the elected leaders, which violates Natural Law and the Social Contract Theory.
“He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to [complete] the works of death, desolation and tyranny… He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands. He has excited domestic insurrections among us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” While the other grievances could be seen as a government using authority granted in its fundamental law these cannot be ignored. When the government turns the military on its own citizens to kill maim and destroy, that is the sign of a tyrant and is not any form of legitimate government. These are the reactions of the government to a people practicing their right of protest against the government. While there was destruction of property within the revolution that does not give the government the authority to destroy towns and individuals.
WHAT ABOUT THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA?
Taking the principles addressed in previous paragraphs it would be safe to assume that the Confederate States of America had the same legal authority to declare their independence from the USA. Taking the arguments made in the Declaration of Independence about the social contract theory a person could argue that the Confederate States of America had the right and authority to declare to their independence from the United States of America. The problem is there was not document officially declaring their independence, the states in the Confederacy just seceded and left. And their grievances could honestly been seen as trivial and unfounded. If you read the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, you would find it almost exactly like the U.S. Constitution except it acknowledges that the “negro” is inferior to the white man in every way and only fit for slavery.
Also, the many grievances written in the Declaration of Independence brought against the British Parliament and King for their crimes against the people and colonies of North America over the previous sixteen years. At the time of the southern states secession no crimes had been committed by the U.S. Congress against the states who choose to secede. They left on the guess that President-elect Lincoln would end slavery, which he had not authority to do under the Constitution. Secondly, Lincoln had stated clearly in the campaign that he had not wish to end slavery where it already existed, but just wanted to prevent it from spreading to the other U.S. territories. Thirdly, He also had stated that if he could save the Union by not freeing a slave he would do it. The imagined issues the Confederate states may have seemed real to them but they were not historical realities. They may have a had a right to declare their independence under the social contract theory, but their reasons were not very solid.
Where do you all stand on this debate? Was the Declaration of Independence illegal? Were the grievances of the colonists trivial? Is the social contract theory enough legal basis to abolish your government and create a new one?
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Class dismissed!