Before the Declaration of Independence, there were state compacts. Many were written and ratified prior to the national compact, and 25 of the 28 grievances listed in the Declaration were pulled directly from the state compacts.
The Union, which is the term for the national federation of States and used throughout the compact, was formed upon the ratification of these United States. It was formed from and with consent of the independent and sovereign states. It was a creature figuratively, functionally, and literally of the states, and therefore of the people. It was true in every pure Lockean and even Sidney-ean fashion, both consciously and traditionally.
This created a disconnect between the crown and the colonies:
- a social compact being a moral and functional agreement amongst sovereign people, not nations;
- the social compact of the colonies, since the original Mayflower Compact of the Pilgrims, gave the Colonial Americans an independence of operation amongst themselves, separate from the Motherland, at least in daily function at nearly all levels; and, as well as,
- the colonies being in the frontier where only God and peoples’ wits and resilience allowed them to prosper – which they did.
It was therefore natural (and consistent with natural law) that would feel (and be) free and independent. They essentially lived without an earthly king, and relied on their Heavenly King, which from their perspective had served their needs and prosperity quite well. They believed God had shone upon them, His subjects, and they both loved and honored their Heavenly King. And these citizens had no intention of leaving Him and becoming another’s (especially an earthly king’s) subjects.
American colonies, of course, understood that they were English subjects of the Crown and under governance of England, but otherwise, as long as they operated within English law, could govern themselves. That is precisely what they did, under their own compacts and legislations–self-government of their daily lives and business.
“It was not part of the government itself,” American historian Donald Lutz explained. “The [Colonial] legislature was thus the people assembled in miniature, and its deliberations and approval were theirs. It was therefore sensible that American legislatures wrote and adopted constitutions in the name of the people.” This was conceptually the same as the Federal Constitution would operate within the framework of the Declaration. Therefore, from the American Colonists perspective the eventual compact of the separate, but intimately linked Constitution and Declaration, wasn’t functionally much different that the State compacts and legislations operating within the framework of English law. However, after the tyrannical intrusion of the Crown, the newly formed Americans under the newly formed Union would approach their constitution with much caution and skepticism. And rightfully so.
Yet, the Colonies had a law above English law. It was God’s Law. And their expectation was that the King would honor God’s Law as well, since they were also British subjects. In this way, God’s Law was superior to English law. It was supreme.
With multiple tiers of law–local law, Colonial law, English law, and at the top God’s Law–the Americans already knew, and were very well seasoned in operating under, a hierarchy of laws. Alexis de Tocqueville astutely observed this practice and commented on it as an underpinning of the significant uniqueness of the American society. This “connected the emigrants with the land of their forefathers in studying the earliest historical and legislative records of New England,” observed Tocqueville, “[The Americans] exercised the rights of sovereignty; they named their magistrates, concluded peace or declared war, made police regulations, and enacted laws as if their allegiance was due only to God.”
Further acknowledging America’s direct tie to God’s Law, Tocqueville also cites the “little State of Connecticut” under the Code of 1650 using direct Scripture passages from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. God and His word in Scripture was and is the basis of the American experiment, and its prosperity.
Jim Huntzinger is the President and Founder of Lean Frontiers, Inc., which develops knowledge and learning communities on the Lean Enterprise for business and industry. With a background and experience in manufacturing and operations, he has also extensively researched the history and development of American manufacturing and also published several books on the lean business model, manufacturing history, and economics.