Our Founding Documents

Article II

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No study of government in America can begin without reading our founding documents. In the previous article, I reviewed the principles of the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the Constitution, formed 11 years later.

The 56 Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration were courageous and brave, as considered by their fellow colonists. As viewed by the King of England, they probably were deemed traitors. Over a decade later after the Revolutionary War, we were free from the rule of a country across the Atlantic Ocean. Two years later, the Constitution was ratified by nine of the new states. We had a government.

All men and women are created equal. This is a natural right. In America, no one person has rights that are superior to another person. We do not get these rights from the government. They are natural and unalienable; we are born with them. Among these rights are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That means that we can pursue our happiness as we wish, so long as we do not trample on or impede someone else’s rights. We must have respect for others as they have for us. We are all equal.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are the bedrock documents of our government in the United States. They are considered to be our founding documents. Clearly the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, but one can read the Declaration to shed light on the words of our Constitution. When our Founders started to draft the Constitution they looked to the Declaration’s principles. From that document we learn the moral and legal principles upon which our Constitution and its provisions are based.

Let us start with the Preamble to the Constitution. It begins with “We the People of the United States,”which means that all power and authority comes from the people. We understand that all power is delegated from the people by the Constitution. That power is limited. Our Constitution is primarily a document of delegated powers. Powers not delegated to the federal government, and not prohibited by the Constitution to the States, are reserved. They are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people. That is the essence of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution.

We will explore these delegated powers and powers not delegated to the United States in later articles. For example, what do we mean by federalism or states’ rights? We will learn what these concepts are and answer those questions. The answers depend on reading the Constitution and seeing what powers are delegated to the federal government. If not, then we must see if those same powers are prohibited by the document to the States.

Our study of our founding documents and American government will continue in later articles. Please read the Declaration and the Constitution. It is time well spent.

Paul G. Summers

Former TN Attorney General