Prior to the Declaration of Independence there was no general government among the colonies connecting one colony to any other save the relationship each had to the British crown. Each colony was established according to the terms of its own charter and its officials answered directly to the British government accordingly. The Declaration of Independence sought to terminate that relationship for each American colony. While the Declaration was worked out in a General Congress with representatives from each of the colonies, it did not create a general government nor a formal confederation among the newly declared States. The Declaration of Independence begins with a statement regarding the authority of governments to exist and claims that this authority is founded on God’s approval and on the consent of the governed. The authors continue to cite truisms about the nature of man and society, but offer not the slightest legal basis for any of their declarations, claiming rather that their statements are self-evident. The majority of the document consists of a listing of claims that the King had abused the colonists by heavy handed ways. All this builds to the final paragraph where the declaration for independence is actually made. This culminating paragraph sets out the nature of these newly declared political claims, to wit: “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, I with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.
The Declaration of Independence does not portend to create a single nation. If it did, its name should be “The State of New Britain”, or “The State of America”, or “The State of The New World”, or any other name representing a single entity. But the proper name of our political arrangement is in the plural, not the singular. Also, the Declaration of Independence did not create a name for this alliance of American states. That came two years later with the Articles of Confederation. At the time of the Declaration, these American states were united in purpose and action to be free and independent of British rule first perhaps, but free and independent of each other as well. By referring to Great Britain as a state, this paragraph tells us that the Founding Fathers understood a state to have the same status as any nation on the world scene. It is common to refer to Great Britain as a nation or a country, but most Americans are surprised to notice that Great Britain is a state. The first legal document in American history uses precisely that language. Under international law as well as American law, the words “state” and “nation” mean exactly the same thing. Each State in our Union has its own constitution, its own land over which it exercises jurisdiction, its own citizens, its own legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, police powers, prison system, and military (both the state’s
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