Is the US Declaration of Independence Illegal?


This was the central question of a debate held as a scholarly exercise between American and British lawyers in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, at Ben Franklin Hall.  Clearly, I’m partial to the outcome of the debate, but the points put forward by both sides were interesting to say the least.  As a fan of Natural Law, I definitely support the argument the American attorneys put forth. These sorts of exercises are important in remembering why we are a country, and what had been the philosophical basis of our founding.  We need to remember our history and heritage of liberty, no more than ever.  The event was sponsored and presented by the Temple American Inn of Court in conjunction with Gray’s Inn, London. H/T to Drudge for finding this story.

I think all of us should spend a good deal more time examining our founding, so that we can better understand those principles to which we have committed.  For ease, here are the cases put forth by the respective sides:

The American Case:

The Declaration is unquestionably “legal”. Under basic principles of “Natural Law”, government can only be by the consent of the people and there comes a point when allegiance is no longer required in face of tyranny.

The legality of the Declaration and its validity is proven by subsequent independence movements which have been enforced by world opinion as right and just, based on the fundamental principles of equality and self-determination now reflected in the UN Charter.

The British Case:

The Declaration of Independence was not only illegal, but actually treasonable. There is no legal principle then or now to allow a group of citizens to establish their own laws because they want to. What if Texas decided today it wanted to secede from the Union?

Lincoln made the case against secession and he was right. The Declaration of Independence itself, in the absence of any recognised legal basis, had to appeal to “natural law”, an undefined concept, and to “self-evident truths”, that is to say truths for which no evidence could be provided.

The grievances listed in the Declaration were too trivial to justify secession. The main one – no taxation without representation – was no more than a wish on the part of the colonists, to avoid paying for the expense of protecting them against the French during seven years of arduous war and conflict.

As per the norm, our British friends were slightly more long-winded.  Go read the entire story. Then go read the Declaration of Independence and decide for yourself.  We should really all review these documents occasionally.

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4 Responses to Is the US Declaration of Independence Illegal?

  1. C.A. Bamford says:

    And yet the British were in Iraq. And Afghanistan. And violated the rights and laws of every country they took over to make good their boast that "The sun never sets on the British Empire."

    Furthermore, not all those who settled in America were Brithish subjects. So it seems the colonists were well justified in overthrowing a hostile and tryrannical nation attempting to interfere with their rights as freemen, and to exert oppresive controls on the thriving trade the colonies had established.

    One might say that the British colonization of Africa is ultimately responsible for the roots of Barack Obama's…philosophy of governing. One might also say this was not their finest hour.

  2. Jim Bell says:

    The entire discussion is irrelevant as it is neither treason nor that which is granted t by the Creator which is at issue. When a people desire an outcome, the only relevant issue is the means to bring that outcome to fruition by the use of force. Be it by the sword or the bullet, in the end only death and ones willingness to dispense it matters. As many find this too distasteful to accept, they delude themselves with scholarly tripe.