Independence Day Reading

Officially, the Continental Congress declared its freedom from Great Britain 239 years ago today on July 2, 1776, when it passed Lee’s Resolutions (“that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved”). Traditionally and pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 6103, Independence Day is observed on July 4, also known as “the Fourth of July” the date when Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. If July 4 is a Saturday, as it is in 2015, the holiday is observed on Friday, July 3. If July 4 is a Sunday, it is observed on Monday, July 5.

In the enjoyment all of the Fourth of July sales, picnics, parades, fireworks, and ball games, it is easy to forget the real significance of the holiday. Reading the Brooklyn Law School Library ‘s copy of the 199 page e-book The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty, published by the Cato Institute and written by Thomas Sandefur, provides a good reminder of that meaning. The book is part of a recent wave of conservative/libertarian scholarship that asks questions regarding original intent, the purpose of the Constitution, and how best to defend liberty. It challenges the status quo of constitutional law and argues a vital truth: our Constitution was written not to empower democracy, but to secure liberty. In fact, the word “democracy” does not occur in either the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. Yet the overemphasis on democracy by today’s legal community – rather than the primacy of liberty, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence – has helped expand the scope of government power at the expense of individual rights. The author argues that now, more than ever, the Declaration of Independence should be the framework for interpreting our fundamental law.