Two common discussions prior to the Revolutionary War were:
- When, if ever, is independence permissible despite scriptural admonitions to obey those in governmental authority? [Romans 13:1] The Founders responded in the Declaration of Independence.
- Are the American people sufficiently virtuous to be self governing? The Founders responded in the Constitution of the United States. “Those people who are not ruled by God will be governed by tyrants.” William Penn
The Founders collective response to the two most important and inescapable questions of the day is why the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States must be read and understood together as if written as a single document.
The Founders knew that the emerging U. S. Constitution would have to prevent or strongly inhibit the relentless concentration of power that almost universally characterized world history. But they had very little precedent to rely upon. The very few precedents available to the Founders included ancient Israel and early Anglo-Saxon common law. The principle characteristics were nearly identical:
- They were set up as a commonwealth of freemen. A basic tenet was: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” (Leviticus 25:10) This inscription appears on the American Liberty Bell…
- All the people were organized into small manageable units where the representation of each family had a voice and a vote. This organizing process was launched after Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, saw him trying to govern the people under Ruler’s Law (Exodus 18:13-26)…
- There was specific emphasis on strong, local self-government. Problems were solved to the greatest possible extent on the level where they originated. The record says: “The hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves.” (Exodus 18:26)
- The entire code of justice was based primarily on reparation to the victim rather than fines and punishment by the commonwealth… (Exodus, Chapters 21 and 22). The one crime for which no “satisfaction” could be given was first-degree murder. The penalty was death (Numbers 35:31).
- Leaders were elected and new laws were approved by the common consent of the people. (2 Samuel 2:4; I Chronicles 29:22; for the rejection of a leader; 2 Chronicles 10:16; for the approval of new laws, Exodus 19:8)
- Accused persons were presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Evidence had to be strong enough to remove any question of doubt as to guilt. Borderline cases were decided in favor of the accused and he was released. It was felt that if he were actually guilty, his punishment could be left to the judgment of God in the future life.13
Rev. Thomas Hooker wrote these principles into the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, thus expanding upon the concepts of equality and government by the consent of the governed embodied earlier in the Mayflower Compact. That first modern constitution was subsequently adopted by Rhode Island.14 Nearly 150 years later the principles were codified in the Constitution of the United States.