Monday, October 24, 2011

The Legality of the Declaration

Last week, American and British lawyers staged a debate in Philadelphia. The topic was the legality of the American Declaration of Independence. The BBC summarizes the two sides:
The American Case for the Declaration

The Declaration is unquestionably "legal". Under basic principles of "Natural Law", government can only be by the consent of the people and there comes a point when allegiance is no longer required in face of tyranny.

The legality of the Declaration and its validity is proven by subsequent independence movements which have been enforced by world opinion as right and just, based on the fundamental principles of equality and self-determination now reflected in the UN Charter.

The British Case Against the Declaration

The Declaration of Independence was not only illegal, but actually treasonable. There is no legal principle then or now to allow a group of citizens to establish their own laws because they want to. What if Texas decided today it wanted to secede from the Union?

Lincoln made the case against secession and he was right. The Declaration of Independence itself, in the absence of any recognised legal basis, had to appeal to "natural law", an undefined concept, and to "self-evident truths", that is to say truths for which no evidence could be provided.

The grievances listed in the Declaration were too trivial to justify secession. The main one - no taxation without representation - was no more than a wish on the part of the colonists, to avoid paying for the expense of protecting them against the French during seven years of arduous war and conflict.