Americans may have learned about the Declaration of Independence once upon a time, but what they really want to know about is its relevance to today. Recently, I conducted a workshop on this very subject. A few cups of coffee on a cold, windy Saturday morning, and a huge framed replica of the original document provided the backdrop for a great morning discussion.
This past week, Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, was asked by Senator Ben Sasse what role the Declaration of Independence plays in interpreting the Constitution. This same question came up at the workshop. Judge Barrett answered that the Declaration of Independence is not binding law. I agree. I explained to my audience that the Declaration lays out the “why” of our separation from Great Britain (“Let the facts be submitted to a candid world”). It is foundational to our Supreme Law of the Land, the U.S. Constitution.
Another question from the audience: What were the occupations of the men who signed the Declaration? Here are some of the professions:
Author, Architect, Lawyer, Inventor, Printer. Farmer, Judge, Diplomat, Politician, Archaeologist, Musician
In other words, they were mostly educated or self-educated men of wealth and means.
I asked the audience if they knew which Founders served on the Committee of Five that wrote the Declaration of Independence. They answered two correctly: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The others are George Washington, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. We talked about how important Sherman and Livingston were to the Declaration. We often hear of the famous Founders, but great people always have those who “fly under the radar” and are “wind beneath the wings” of those who rise to prominence. I contend that Sherman and Livingston were such men of their time. Who are your unsung heroes?
People are generally reticent to be first to ask a question in a classroom-like setting. Really, though, your question may be the one that others have too. If you were in attendance at the workshop, what question would you ask about the Declaration of Independence?
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship.??