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The Declaration of Independence

How exactly does the Declaration of Independence work? Is it considered part of the Constitution? Has it been used in cases? What does it do?

By
Michael W. Flynn
July 5, 2008

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First, a disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, the legal information in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, I do not intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any listener.

Happy 4th of July, Loyal Listeners. Today I pause from my Supreme Court roundup to address an anonymous listener’s question posted over 6 months ago:

How exactly does the Declaration of Independence work? Is it considered part of the Constitution? Has it been used in cases? What does it do?

The very short answer is that the Declaration of Independence, while a momentous document that defined this country, has little, if any, binding legal effect.

The document that we now know as the Declaration of Independence was simply a document entitled “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America,” and states in part:

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.

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — 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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

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