The US Constitution is the supreme law ratified on June 21, 1788, and took effect on March 4, 1789. The purpose of the American Constitution is to form a just society that ensures the security and prosperity of its members. The US Declaration of Independence was ratified on July 4, 1776, by the Second Continental Congress. This document aims to announce the independence of the Thirteen Colonies from British rule and proclaim them as sovereign states. Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists was written in 1802 to express the urgent need to ensure the religious liberty of American citizens and emphasize the necessity to separate the church from the state. The present paper analyzes and compares the three introduced documents. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are essential documents that shape the fundamental rules and features of the American government and society. The Declaration was created ten years before the Constitution and could be regarded as “almost part of the Constitution itself” (McClellan, 2000, p. 122). The Declaration is the founding document of the US, whereas the Constitution is not (Barnett, 2019).
The first reason for this is that the critical idea of the Declaration is the independence and sovereignty of states. This idea was later reflected in the American Constitution which declares the US as an independent and sovereign nation. The second reason for the importance of the Declaration for the Constitution is that it legally justifies the “armed resistance to the crown” that abused “the rights of the people of the United States” (Barnett, 2019, p. 23). The US Constitution borrows that idea by stating its responsibility to defend the citizens from external attacks. The cornerstone of modern American society is the equality of all citizens, regardless of their gender, religion, and race. However, this idea is relatively new and was not well-discussed in the Declaration and the initial version of the US Constitution. Even though the Declaration claims that all men are equal, scholars believe that phrase means only that citizens of former British colonies must enjoy the same rights as Englishmen (McClellan, 2000). Furthermore, the notion of equality was added to the American Constitution only in the 1970-s in the Equal Rights Amendment. The most important common feature of both documents is the emphasis on the independence of American society and its unity. Both documents ignore the issue of equality because, in the late 18th century, this topic was not relevant. Thus, to a great extent, the Constitution is based on the Declaration of Independence. Even though Thomas Jefferson’s Letter of 1802 to the Danbury Baptists is not an official document, it is essential for forming American culture and government the way we know it. In the letter, the third American president emphasized separating church and state (Todd, 2021).
Nonetheless, this does not mean Jefferson wanted to separate American society from God and make it atheistic (Todd, 2021). Instead, this was an attempt to promote the religious freedom of American citizens. It seems that the creators of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were not thinking of the need to separate a state from a church or God. These documents do not say much about religion or God per se. The possible explanation for this is that in the late 18th century, the church’s role was strong, not to mention religion as such. Therefore, since religion was an indispensable component of the society of those times, the authors of the documents did not think of separating church from state. The worldview of those times implied that God and government and other spheres of people’s life are inseparable. To conclude, all three sources play an essential role in forming the American nation, its values, and its culture. Still, the foundation of the US government is the Declaration, not Constitution, since the former contains numerous features that were reflected in the latter. In the 18th century, the authors did not pay much attention to the relations between God and government, and this issue was emphasized only in the early 1800-s by Thomas Jefferson.
Barnett, R. E. (2019). The Declaration of Independence and the American theory of government: First come rights, and then comes government. Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, 42, 23-28.
McClellan, J. (2000). Liberty, order, and justice: An introduction to the constitutional principles of American government (3rd ed.). Liberty Fund.
Todd, O. T. (2021). Baptist federalism: Religious liberty and public virtue in the early republic. Journal of Church and State, 63(3), 440-460.