While the US Constitution and Bill of Rights are the first documents most people think of when discussing founding documents of the United States, the United States Declaration of Independence should be just as prominent if not more so. In the Declaration of Independence the founders of the United States make several statements about Government and Citizenship in its second paragraph
- All men [persons] are created equal.
- Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are citizen rights.
- Governments are established to secure citizen rights and government obtains their power through the consent of the citizens they govern.
- It is the right of citizens to abolish its government and establish a new one that ensures citizen safety and happiness when the current government does not fulfill its obligations to its citizens.
- Overthrowing oppressive governments and instituting new safety checks for future government officials are a citizens duty in addition to being a citizens right.
The Declaration of Independence goes on to provide a list of grievances against King George III of Britain. In the final three paragraphs, the Declaration of Independence lists methods the colonies used in an attempt to try and remedy their grievances with King George III and the British Crown. Finally in the last paragraph, the founders declare that the United States of America is a free and independent nation and that the new nation is absolved of any allegiance to the British Crown. The founders of the United States of America declare that their authority to establish a new nation and absolve itself of any allegiance to the British Crown is given to them by the consent of the people who live in the colonies.
The Declaration of Independence is consistent with democratic rules established by the Roman Empire and the empires that came before it. They are rules that Britain, Spain and France used to govern over its people when the Declaration of Independence was written and rules that are still used today at the United Nations and in most countries with a republic or democratic form of government.
While the USA did have a war with Britain over its declaration, the war was lawful and there were other nations involved. France, Spain and Netherlands all sided with the USA while Germany sided with Britain. The war is thought to be the result of events going back to 1754 and it is reported as being a world war with the last battle ending in Cuddalore, India in 1783.
The Declaration of Independence is very similar to the Magna Carta written in 1215 in that Barons had split into groups of Royalists and Rebels and the Magna Carta documented the rights of the English Church, the rights of London, the rights of the Rebels and it was agreed to by King John of England. The Magna Carta also established that a Monarch is to follow the law and act lawfully. The authors of the Declaration of Independence tried to follow this format when writing the document and the principles of the Magna Carta are in various human right and citizen right documents including the US Bill of Rights. The Magna Carta was written in Latin and while it has been translated to English by the British Library, the Declaration of Independence sets out the Rights of Citizens in concise and modern English in its second paragraph. The US Declaration of Independence is one of the most recent documents we have that sets out citizen rights in a concise manner while also being one of the oldest documents outlining citizen rights in modern English.
These citizen rights can be traced to at least the 6th century B.C. when Rome went from a Monarchy to a Republic. It is believed that citizen rights were extracted from the Code of Hammurabi written in Ancient Babylon and passed down to the Roman Empire from Babylon to Egypt to Greece and finally Rome. From Rome, these citizen rights went out to various governments and cultures throughout the middle ages and were guarded in various Royal Houses throughout Europe including those of England, France, Spain and Norway before being passed on to Colonial America.
The Code of Hammurabi has been translated by Yale Law School and the Encyclopædia Britannica lists other similar topics such as the Napoleonic Code, Code of Justinian, German Civil Code, Swiss Civil Code, Prussian Civil Code and Code of Canon Law that are still relevant today much like the Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence are still relevant. Mr. Giotto of Penfield School District in New York, USA also has a good overview of how society evolved in his online textbook. It covers civilization from the Stone Age through Tudor England and is geared toward middle school students.
Black’s Law Dictionary and Oxford’s English Dictionary are excellent compliments to these civil codes, the history of citizen rights and the history of government obligations because they provide historical context to words that are no longer used or have changed meaning over time. These dictionaries help to better understand these documents in their full context so that you can explain in your own words what they mean during any legal proceedings. The 2nd edition of Blacks Law Dictionary is provided free which is an excellent resource for getting started studying laws and human rights.
The Declaration of Independence and the United States subsequent citizen rights documents such as the US Constitution and Bill of Rights helped inspire texts of international law that include the Geneva Conventions, IHL, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) because they lay out a definitive framework that allows citizens to confidently exercise their human rights without fear of constantly going to court to assert those rights. They also make judicial proceedings easier because a judge has a document stating what is definitely lawful. Understanding how modern citizen rights and government obligations work; how society got to this point and what to lawfully do if there is a problem with government in the future is good foundational knowledge to have as a citizen of a developed nation and it should be a pre-requisite for any law student, attorney, prosecutor or judge. These documents provide government officials with guidance on proper conduct and examples of how to deal with unruly mobs in a lawful manner.
Some recent documents the Declaration of Independence helped to inspire include UNCLOS which covers rules for nations and private vessels international. This is shared space between nations and it is thought that both the internet and space travel will be treated under similar rules as those used in international waters when everything is properly legislated. From a freedom standpoint, its important to understand where international waters ends and where your nation’s borders begin because usually citizen rights only apply within your own nation unless there is a travel treaty for limited exercise of your citizen rights when visiting other nations. As an example, it would normally be o.k. for a traveler to access banned content stored on a device or accessed via a secure website while travelling as long as the content is not shared or broadcast with the local population. It is probably also o.k. to setup a server remotely in a foreign nation to conduct business or pleasure that is lawful within that nation and the nation you are a citizen of. It is probably not o.k. to setup a server remotely, or in person, inside another nation that violates another nations law because this will cause problems between the foreign nation and the nation you are a citizen of. Rules for managing overseas territories and private property owned by citizens overseas will apply on both the internet and with space travel so its important to understand these documents and these rights. The Declaration of Independence is the oldest document written in English that outlines the rules for overthrowing oppressive governments, your own government and it still applies to Citizens of the USA today. It does not give authorization to go to another country as a civilian and start a war or violate any treaties which would be covered under the US Constitution.
After the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, the US Constitution, written in 1787, is one of the most important documents for US Citizens because it outlines in greater detail how the US Government is to be run and lists additional rights for Citizens. Many other nations have similar documents for their own countries. Some of the rights US Citizens through the US Constitution is private ownership of copyrights and patents that comes with Government protection for a limited time. The US Constitution also gives the Government the ability to make treaties such as the Treaty of Berne which is a copyright treaty ratified in 1887 and still in force today. The treaty of Berne covers written works, photographs, architecture, video, audio recordings, blueprints and schematics. Original computer code is also covered under copyright, and the business processes the computer code accomplishes can additionally be patented for a short period. Copyrights are an economic asset that lasts the life of the copyright holder plus 50 years except for photographs which are copyrighted for 25 years after the picture was taken and videos which are copyrighted for 50 years after the first showing or 50 years after creation if it is never shown. These economic assets are important to nations because they allow the copyright and patent holders to make income and pay taxes but there are other rights such as the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness outlined in the Declaration of Independence that are not necessarily economically driven. They are common law rights that all humans are born with. So according to the Declaration of Independence, humans has a right to pursue liberty and happiness and take themselves out of situations that threaten their lives.
Copyrights, patents, the right to travel whether from state to state, on international waters, through international airspace or virtually over the internet are citizen rights in the USA and permission to cross into other nations territories where the USA has agreements and treaties in place is one of the benefits of having citizen rights. These rights also build on former documents, for example the Berne Convention builds on copyright and patent rights outlined in Article 1, Section 8, Paragraph 8 the US Constitution. The US Constitution is an affirmation of the Treaty of Paris and the Treaty of Paris is affirmation of the Independence of Declaration. The 4th protocol of the Geneva Convention also builds on the right to life stated in the Declaration of Independence by categorizing people into combatants and non-combatants and setting rules for armed forces on the treatment of civilians. The Declaration of Independence also states that it is a US citizens right to overthrow oppressive governments and institute new safety checks and this is affirmed by Article 6 of the US Constitution as well as the Treaty of Paris. For those that grew up on the internet the Declaration of Independence is important as it pertains to the use of encryption, unlawful monitoring and invasion of privacy by the former government of the USA because it is what allowed us to overthrow the former government and establish a new one. The Declaration of Independence allows citizens to institute a new government when the former one has become oppressive but it does not mandate that the new government be established with a whole new set of rules for government. Establishing the new government with a requirement to be compliant with the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution and treaties and agreements made lawfully under the authority of the USA such as the Geneva Conventions and the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights is sufficient when removing oppressive governments now and in the future.