for your kind remarks about Power Line on Hardball last night. They occurred in the context of a conversation with a capable interviewer in which your intelligence, attainments, and worthy goals were prominently on display.
Your devotion to reviving the study and increasing the knowledge of American history among American kids through your current books was inspirational, as is the story told in the most recent of them, When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots. (Click here for a complete list of Mrs. Cheney’s books, including Mrs. Cheney’s two previous books on historical subjects for a younger audience.)
Knowledge of American history holds the key to much of the current discussion of political issues, such as the ongoing liberal attack on Christian belief and on arguments premised on belief in God. (See “Secularism and its discontents” below.) Absent knowledge of American history, one would never know that the United States is founded on the basis of a creed, rather than on tribal or blood lines, in which God plays a prominent part. Absent knowledge of history generally, one would never know that this fact makes America unique.
What is the American creed? Few know it as such, but as it happens it is of course closely related to the story of Washington’s crossing the Delaware. The American creed is expressed with inspired concision in the words of the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…
But does the Declaration have any legal status such that these words can be truly deemed to state the American creed? It does, although virtually no one seems to know it. In 1878 Congress enacted a revised version of the United States Code that included a new first section entitled “The Organic Laws of the United States.” The story behind the 1878 revision of the Code is told in the introduction to political scientist Richard Cox’s valuable book Four Pillars of Constitutionalism: The Organic Laws of the United States. Cox credits the idea for the book to Professor Harry Jaffa, Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute.
The Code is Congress’s official compilation of federal law; the organic laws of the United States are America’s founding laws. First and foremost of the four organic laws of the United States is the Declaration of Independence. Following the Delcaration among the organic laws are the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Why was the Northwest Ordinance included among the organic laws of the United State? That, gentle readers, is the subject for another day.
Professor Jaffa teaches us that the Declaration contains four distinct references to God: He is the author of the “laws of…God”; the “Creator” who “endowed” us with our inalienable rights; “the Supreme Judge of the world”; and “Divine Providence.” Americans declared their independence, “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.”
The Declaration states the American creed, the creed that recognizes the source (Nature and Nature’s God) of our rights. As Professor Jaffa has noted, the fact that the placement of the Declaration first among the founding laws is not merely formal or ceremonial is shown by the fact that every enabling act by Congress for the admission of a state to the Union since the Civil War has had the following provision:
The Constitution of the State of ______ shall always be republican in form and shall not be repugnant to the Constitution of the United States and the principles of
the Declaration of Independence.
The Constitution itself provides in its preamble that it is intended to secure the “blessings of liberty.” From whence do the blessings of liberty derive? The successful completion of the Progressive project that the New Republic was founded to promote — of which New Republic editor Peter Beinart is a faithful inheritor — will destroy not only historical understanding, but the true understanding of our rights themselves: they precede human law and government, but are secured to us by them as a means of implementing antecedent rights whose origin is in a Supreme Being.
HINDROCKET adds: And thank you, Trunk, for the history lesson. It’s true that hardly anyone knows about the 1878 Act; somewhat better known, I think, is the primacy that Abraham Lincoln gave to the Declaration of Independence as the guiding star of the American republic. A good short summary of Lincoln’s career would be: he saved the Constitution by bringing it in line with the principles of the Declaration.
BIG TRUNK adds: Abraham Lincoln gave perhaps the best exposition of the meaning of the Declaration of Independence in his speech of July 10, 1858. For the story of that speech, and for Lincoln’s exposition, see our post “The eternal meaning of Independence Day.”