The American Rule of Law: Our Constitution Built Upon the Declaration

The rule of law is considered a bedrock principle of our nation and central to ordered liberty.

This post is the third in a series intended to explore the unique nature and significance of the American rule of law to the moral, political, and economic well-being of our nation.


Dr. Virginia Armstrong and the Blackstone Institute assert that three characteristics of a strong constitutional republic include certainty, consistency, and continuity, which are “core characteristics of the rule of law and justice.”[1] Note: that does not mean without change.  Change can occur, and in fact needs to occur, in accordance with the founding principles in day to day governance as well as in effecting necessary major change when the “law” is favoring an unjust cause such as slavery or abortion.  The American rule of law was designed to function with certainty, consistency, and continuity in contrast to other forms of arbitrary, uncertain, and inconsistent governance. 

To rightly administer the American rule of law it is necessary to acknowledge the relationship and continuity between the American Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.  Those documents comprise two of four making up what is recognized by our government as our nation’s organic law.[2]

What then is organic law?

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 2.34.58 PMIn business, organic documents are those pertaining to the founding, existence, and organization of the entity.  Black’s Law Dictionary defines “organic law” as “the fundamental law, or constitution, or a state or nation, written or unwritten.  That law or system of laws or principles which defines and establishes the organization of government.” 

How, then ought the Constitution and the Declaration function?  Robert Cannada writes: 

There is much additional evidence of the obvious fact that both the Declaration and the Constitution make up the Organic Law of our nation and are legally inseparable. The Declaration is clearly referenced in various federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court in hundreds of decisions.  These two documents make up the “government” of the United State of America.  The principles of the Declaration constitute the foundational portion of the government and the Constitution constitutes the political process that is to be followed by the officeholders in governing of the people.  Both are essential for stable government.[3]

The following diagram portrays this relationship:

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 2.43.48 PMScreen Shot 2013-06-11 at 2.44.24 PM

The U.S. Constitution was not intended, therefore, to replace the guiding principles of the Declaration of Independence; it was designed to build upon those foundational principles by providing a better political process for successfully implementing them than the failed Articles of Confederation.  Constitutional scholar John Eidsmoe points out the “Constitution is built upon the Declaration of Independence, and the Declaration finds practical expression in the Constitution.  Neither can be fully understood without the other.”[4]

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 2.44.58 PMUnderstanding the proper place of the Declaration as the foundation for the Constitution, those governing officials who swear to uphold the Constitution, ought to do so in light of the timeless transcendent truths based upon a higher law found in the Declaration.  An inscription in the wall of Harvard University Law Library aptly states, “Of law there can be no lesse acknowledgement than that her seate is the bosome of God.” The recognition that the Constitution builds upon those timeless truths, it does not replace them, goes a long way in staying the arbitrary hand of government from feeding its almost insatiable appetite and in contrast promoting certainty, consistency, and continuity, a strong foundation for moral, political, and economic growth.

[1] Brief for The Blackstone Institute and Virginia Armstrong, PhD. as Amici Curiae Supporting Petitioner, Norma McCorvey, Formerly Known as Jane Doe, Petitioner vs.  William “Bill” Hill, Dallas County District Attorney, 543 U.S. 1154 (2005)(No. 04-967).

[2] An explanation page in the United States Code Annotated states that our nation’s organic laws include the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Northwest Ordinance.

[3] Robert C. Cannada, America’s Rule of Law (2001), p. 16.

[4] John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of Our Founding Fathers (1987), p. 362.

Peter H. Johnston owns his own business providing research and consulting services in the fields of law, education and public policy. He received his B.A. in history from Cornell University and his law degree from Oak Brook College of Law and Public Policy. He is a graduate of Chuck Colson’s biblical worldview mentoring program through the Wilberforce Forum and is currently working on his MBA through Oklahoma Wesleyan University. He has spoken and/or written on topics such as religious freedom, education, the rule of law, constructive contributions of Christianity to culture, sanctity of life, and restorative justice. Peter has testified before Texas legislative committees and the Texas State Board of Education, was interviewed on CNN Sunday Night while serving as President of Texas Center for Family Rights, and ran for Texas State Board of Education in 2008. He lives in southeast Texas with his wife, Nanette, and daughter Karen, one of four children and four grandchildren.

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