Our Founding Documents

Paul G. Summers Former Attorney General Tennessee, 2020

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Article I

No study of government in America and the states can begin without visiting our founding documents. That is where we shall initiate our series.

    Our Declaration of Independence was drafted in Philadelphia by our Founding Fathers in 1776. This document declared our independence from Great Britain. John Hancock, later famous for his pronounced autograph, and 55 other courageous men signed the Declaration.  They were considered valiant and brave by their fellow colonists; by the Crown they probably were deemed traitors. On that July 4th those 56 Founders did not know if they were signing their death warrants or a declaration of separation from the King of England. They signed because they thought it was right and just; they were truly selfless. They were concerned with freedoms, not politics.

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   Eleven years later, in 1787, a new nation, free and independent of Great Britain, was born – the United States of America. After many patriots had fought and died on the battlefields, we were free from the bonds of a country across the Atlantic Ocean some 4,300 miles away. After the United States was born, many of these men, plus others, met once again in Philadelphia to form a new government and draft a plan for governing.  The plan became known as the Constitution. Two years later, after the Constitution was ratified by nine of the newly formed states, we had a new government.  That was just the beginning of governing.

   The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are the bedrock documents of our government in the United States.  They are considered to be our founding documents.  Clearly the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, but one can read the Declaration to embellish or shed light on the words of our Constitution. One should read the Declaration to gain the moral and legal principles upon which our Constitution and its provisions are based. 

   The second paragraph of the Declaration, familiar to students of history and civics, states:  “WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness….”  This is the principle of what we call “The Rule of Law.”  All persons are equal; no man or woman is above the law; and governments are created and instituted by the people.

   Our study of American government and our founding documents will continue in later editions.  Please read the Declaration and the Constitution. It’s a half hour well spent.