- - Wednesday, April 25, 2012


By Larry P. Arnn
Thomas Nelson, $19.99, 224 pages

During the birth of the United States, the Founding Fathers discussed, debated and devised two crucial documents: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. As any school-aged child is fundamentally aware, these two democratic pillars set out everything from the laws of the land to the individual rights and freedoms of all citizens. In simpler terms, the United States couldn’t be the United States without the influential hand of both the Declaration and Constitution.

Yet the treasured and historic link between these two living documents is under attack in Washington. In particular, Hillsdale College President Larry P. Arnn is troubled by the efforts of some politicians to separate the Declaration and Constitution - and cherry-pick what they do and don’t like about them. In Mr. Arnn’s important new book, “The Founders’ Key,” he sets out to square the circle and re-establish the natural and divine connection that the two documents share. As he nicely puts it, “We may like the one or the other, but few of us are devoted to them both in the sense in which they are written.”

Take Nancy Pelosi, for example. In October 2009, the former Democratic House Speaker asked a reporter, “Are you serious? Are you serious?” when asked if the Constitution granted Congress a health insurance mandate. Yet in March 2010, Mr. Arnn noted she praised the Founders’ support for “certain inalienable rights” in the Declaration after that mandate passed and became the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Mrs. Pelosi’s arrogant attempt at political posturing is hardly unique. There has been a long and sordid history of academics and public figures criticizing and separating the Declaration and Constitution. Progressives such as John Dewey and Frank Goodnow opposed aspects of both documents. President Woodrow Wilson thought the Declaration was “obsolete.” John C. Calhoun, vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, felt the Declaration was “the most false and dangerous of all political errors.”

Meanwhile, President Franklin D. Roosevelt committed the cardinal sin: He “divorced them” and “embraced the Declaration, and thereby he brought liberalism back to the vocabulary, if not to the meaning, of the American Founding.”

“The Founders’ Key” attempts to resolve these divorce proceedings, and create a happy marriage between the Declaration and Constitution once more. In Mr. Arnn’s view, “A constitution is not only described in the Declaration of Independence; it is necessary to it.” How so? He sees the Declaration as “little else than a list of the reasons why it came to be,” whereas the Constitution “gave rise to a debate full of reasons, pro and con, and several documents in that debate are among the most profound political statements in history.”

This makes perfect sense: The declaration of a nation’s birth will obviously precede all other things, but that nation cannot proceed without developing a constitution from these early negotiations and later discussions and debates. Hence, the folly of liberal academics and politicians in trying to separate these two particular documents that are inherently intertwined becomes evident.

Mr. Arnn also weaves an impressive tale in various chapters by taking out significant sections and quotes from both documents and placing them back into the proper historical context. With respect to the Creator and laws of nature, for example, the author points out, “Only of God can it be said that His will constituted a rule that all peoples, in all places, and at all times must obey. The Founders needed a law as universal as the circumstances the law is supposed to cover. They needed a law applicable in all nature.”

Moreover, in attempting to find out if all people are created equal, he writes, “This idea of quality and consent of the governed seems to have been important to the Founders. … It is ‘self-evident’ that they are ‘created equal.’ … The differences are very great in obvious physical and intellectual respects, and yet in essential respects they are nothing.”

Many readers will likely be spellbound by Mr. Arnn’s sharp historical analysis, clear writing and impressive ability to challenge liberal orthodoxy when it comes to the Declaration and Constitution. They will begin to understand why the Founders wanted these two living documents to go hand-in-hand, and the key drivers to make them a perfect union.

Michael Taube is a columnist and former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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