Not So Self-Evident

Aug 13 2012 @ 7:07pm

by Matthew Sitman

Reviewing a new book on the uses of the Declaration of Independencee, Jack Rakove ponders the difficulties of squaring its lofty ideals with the more practical demands of institutions and governance:

The argument that the Declaration states the ends for which the Constitution is essentially the means expresses a noble sentiment, which is why we owe the same honor to Lincoln that he wanted paid to Jefferson. Lincoln made us a better nation—indeed, a better people—by insisting that the promise of the Declaration be fulfilled. But that is not the same point as insisting that the Constitution as originally adopted—the Constitution that still badly needed the Fourteenth Amendment—rested on the liberty and equality of the Declaration. How to convert its moral principles into a rule for constitutional governance before the era of Reconstruction first made that attempt remains a puzzle. The framers of the Constitution never discussed this idea, nor did later jurists propound any rules to give the Declaration recognizable constitutional authority.