Founding Documents Research Paper

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Founding Documents-Declaration & Constitution

The Declaration of Independence lays out the fundamental propositions which underlie the Constitution and American political culture, and as Abraham Lincoln once famously stated, the Constitution is the "frame of silver" which surrounds the Declaration's "apple of gold." That is, Lincoln believed the Constitution creates the institutions and processes through which American government realizes the principles natural rights found in the Declaration's preamble. The purpose of the Declaration was not only to create a document proclaiming the colonies' separation from Great Britain, but it was also both a list of grievances and a statement of colonial constitutional theory. Jefferson stated toward the end of his life that the political philosophy espoused in the Declaration was simply a statement of the "American mind."

The Constitution can properly be said to embody these principles in part due to the failure of the Articles of Confederation -- as the Declaration states, when a government fails to provide security and happiness, as both were jeopardized under British rule and under the government of the Articles, then the people reserve the right to "alter or abolish" said government and institute a new one which would better embody the Declaration's principles. But what government action jeopardizes a polity's security and happiness? What "long train of abuses and usurpations [lead to] . . . Despotism?" The list of grievances against King George III inform the world of those political actions which create the bar for revolutionary activity; and by understanding the "usurpations," etc. In this list, one can then create governmental institutions and process which can limit and channel political abuse. With this in mind, we can then compare the list of grievances found in the Declaration with how the Constitution addresses a particular form of abuse, tyranny or corruption.

The first grievance tells us the King has refused his "assent to laws," and the Constitution addresses this in a number of ways. First, the Constitution provides a mechanism to replace those who refuse to "assent to laws" through electoral mechanisms. The American people have the right to replace obstructionist members of the House of Representatives every two years, and through the 17th Amendment, they have the right to replace senators every six years, and through the Electoral College, the American people have the ability to replace a "bad" president every four years. Second, through the principle of checks and balances, each branch has the ability and right to "compel" each of the other branches to act with better behavior and motives. For example, the executive veto allows the president to deny what he considers to be bad or harmful law; but the veto override allows the Congress to place into law policy truly desired by their constituents over and above the president's veto. The Congress has the right to impeach and remove those executive and judicial officers who thwart "assent to laws;" and the judicial branch has the ability to review and strike down those actions of Congress and the executive (and the states, for that matter) that harm or impede the "assent to laws." To address the…

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