The Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and the Constitution were crafted by the best and brightest lawyers, academics, businessmen, and leaders America had to offer. Our founding documents have stood the test of time for nearly two and a half centuries. They served as the heart and soul of the nation during its journey from thirteen agrarian colonies to perhaps the greatest and freest military and economic superpower in history.
And yet, views of America’s founding principles have continued to deteriorate. Public support for constitutional originalism has declined, with 55 percent of Americans agreeing that the Constitution should be interpreted based on what it “means in current times.” Younger generations also hold a negative view of the United States relative to the rest of the world, with 42 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 believing there are greater countries.
More than ever, Americans believe the guiding institutions of the United States have become decrepit, and that we should be more like the rest of the world. Too many Americans are ignorant of the role the United States’ founding documents have played in shaping the global community that they revere.
America’s Founding Fathers pioneered ideals of democracy, individual liberty, and natural rights, in a world where such concepts were alien.
Our founding documents quickly became near-verbatim templates for similar texts worldwide. In repudiation of the monarchical system we rebelled against, our Declaration and Constitution institutionalized the sovereignty of the people over the state and legitimized rebellion against oppressive powers. This would catch on with other freshly independent peoples who would base their constitutions off ours, such as Venezuela in 1811, Mexico in 1824, and Argentina in 1826. Many of these countries still possess an uncanny resemblance to the American system of government, with a bicameral legislature, president, and a supreme court. Moreover, a separation between federal and state/provincial powers is commonplace across South and Central America. European nations further adapted aspects of the American Constitution following the numerous democratizing revolutions of 1848. Switzerland, for example, modeled their first constitution off ours.
The Declaration of Independence had perhaps an even more profound impact on the world. It became a template for other widely influential documents, the first being the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789. The first tenant of this document, that “Men are born, and always continue, free and equal in respect of their rights,” derives from the first “self-evident” truth of the American Declaration: that “all men are created equal.” The document also has a similar emphasis on natural law jurisprudence, with its “natural and imprescriptible rights of man” being inspired by the “unalienable rights” and “Laws of Nature” respected by Americans. It further establishes the sovereignty of the people over the government, stating that “the nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty” and that “the law is an expression of the will of the community,” just as the American Declaration states that “governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The Declaration of Independence would later influence the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, published in 1948 by the United Nations. This text stresses “the inherent dignity” and “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family,” and further defends the right of “rebellion against tyranny and oppression,” the right to rebel being a core theme of the American Declaration. The Universal Declaration also adapts the iconic line that “all men are created equal” in its first Article, where it states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
These fundamental freedoms and ideals, taken for granted by the world community, stand as the legacy of America’s founding documents. Natural law jurisprudence, the sovereignty of the governed, the belief that all are created equal, the right of the people to resist oppression, and more all trace their origins in the modern world to the writings of the Founders. Greater than any impact we could hope to leave in the history books as the world’s preeminent military power, our true and greatest contributions come from the earliest stages of our nationhood. And it is for this reason that we must preserve and defer to these guiding principles created by the architects of our nation.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.