Chief among the anti-slavery constitutionalists was one of my great heroes, John Quincy Adams. In a series of pamphlets and speeches written during his post-presidency Congressional service, Adams argued that the Constitution must be interpreted in light of the Declaration of Independence. Drawing on the writings of his father’s generation, he argued that it was the Declaration that created the American union and defined the terms of its legitimacy; the Constitution implemented its principles. Not only did sovereignty reside in the nation as a whole (rendering secession unconstitutional, of course), but that sovereignty was limited by the natural rights of man. The problems with the Articles of Confederation, he wrote,
arose out of a departure from the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and the substitution of state sovereignty instead of the constituent sovereignty of the people, as the foundation of the Revolution and of the Union. The war from the beginning had been, and yet was, a revolutionary popular war. The colonial governments never had possessed or pretended to claim sovereign power. Many of them had not even yet constituted themselves as independent States. The Declaration of Independence proclaims the natural rights of man, and the constituent power of the people to be the only sources of legitimate government. State sovereignty is a mere argument of power, without regard to right—a mere reproduction of the omnipotence of the British parliament in another form, and therefore not only inconsistent with, but directly in opposition to, the principles of the Declaration of independence.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Sandefur: "The Liberty Constitution, Or, What About Slavery?"
Check it out here. A taste: