A Comparison of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Thomas Jefferson Letter

In this paper I will briefly discuss, as well as compare, the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and Thomas’s Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists. While these three articles may seem to share many commonalities, upon further research I was able to discover just how unique and intertwined they all they were. Now, I understand that may seem like a contradiction, to use the words unique and intertwined together, however in this paper you’ll be able to see how I make sense of this. In my research I was also able to establish an answer to this question: “What do you think the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the United State Constitution thought about the separation of church and state?” I found in answering this question, I had to think of how I truly felt about it myself, and then was able to confirm that my worldview was just as I had always suspected it was, unique.

Comparison Paper

To be able to compare the Constitution of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, and the Letter to the Danbury Baptists, we must first be able to understand what they each represent. Only the Declaration of Independence really hints at what the context of the article contains, which is the 13 original colonies declaration of independence from the rule of British monarchy. The United States constitution, which came afterward the Declaration of Independence, is essentially a “user’s manual” to the United States government. It names each of the 3 branches of government, goes into detail about the rules, regulations, and guidelines for each of the 3, and also contains the Bill of Rights, and all other amendments to the Constitution.

Finally, the Letter to the Danbury Baptists, which was written by Thomas Jefferson, is a formal address to the church, in which Thomas Jefferson tells the church that their complaints were no business of Congress or of the President, and that all religious matters were to be kept separate from government. These three articles bring forth the important aspect, which is what was the intent of the founding fathers in regards to separation of church and state. Did they intend this to be a solely Christian nation? On the other hand, did they intend for the freedom of religion, one of the very reasons they declared independence from the British monarchs, to extend to every citizen of this nation?

Comparing the Articles

To properly answer the question of intent of the founding fathers about separation of church and state, a clear understanding of two articles, the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, is necessary.

The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence, published July 4, 1776, starts out with an infamous preamble. “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.” (“The Declaration of Independence: What Does it Say?” 2018). In this line alone, we get a sense of what the founding fathers collectively believed, which is that every human being had a given right, from the Creator, to pursue life, liberty, and happiness and NOBODY can take that away. Therefore, they believed in a higher power, presumably God, given the fact that puritan belief was prevalent during the founding of this country.

The Declaration of Independences then goes on to compile a hefty list of grievances against the King of England, and states that on several occasions they petitioned against him and found themselves even more oppressed by the “tyrant” king. After the list of grievances, the founding fathers declare independence from the crown, as well as any connections to the monarch or Britain at all, and outline what the United States, as a free country is able and willing to do. Now, this differs from the United States Constitution as this is a declaration, or basically a letter telling the king and all of Britain that the United States will no longer be a part of their country, their rule, or their ways of life. There is no room for argument and it is made clear that the citizens of the states will go to war if necessary and that they are now going to do whatever they please.

The United States Constitution

The very first opening lines of the Constitution (written in 1787) state the purpose of it, which is to better the form of government they had created in declaring independence from the monarchy as well as setting that government up to last for generations. It is like a “user’s manual” to government and includes all three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judiciary. It covers all 7 articles of the Constitution, as well as all 27 amendments, with the first 10 amendments being Bill of Rights. This article is not a simple declaration of freedom from oppression; this is the very outline of the inner workings and regulations of the United States Government. This well-written guide has withstood generations of ridicule and change, and shaped the very course of this country.

The Legislative Branch. The legislative branch consists of The House of Representatives and Congress. They have the power to impeach, they pass bills into laws, and they have limitations to their authorities as to not obstruct justice.

The Executive Branch. The executive branch consists of the President and Vice President of the United States. The President is the Commander in Chief of all the militaries of America; he/she has a cabinet aid and the power to pardon criminals. They are also responsible for delivering the State of the Union Address, acting as Head of State, and ensuring the laws of the United States are carried out. The President and Vice president may be impeached based on treason, bribery, or other crimes or misdemeanors.

The Judiciary Branch. This branch consists of the Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the United States. The court has nine judges, who receive nomination and appointment in accordance with the Constitution’s guidelines. They usually serve for life once appointed, and they handle jury trials at the federal level.

The Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights are the first 10 of the 27 amendments made to the Constitution and consist of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press, right to bear arms, right to assembly and petition, and so forth. These rights are inherent to every citizen of the United States, and cannot be taken away without amending the Constitution itself. Any violation of a citizen to exercise these rights is a violation of the Constitution and is punishable by law.

Jefferson’s Letter to Danbury Baptists

Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802 in regards to a complaint that they had filed against the state. It is evident from research that Thomas Jefferson was a man of deep convictions about his religion, especially in the sense that his religion was HIS alone, and it was no business of the government. He also was a firm believer that the government had no business getting involved in religious matters, and was even vilified by his peers for his passage of a statute of religious freedom and his theological views. His response to the Danbury Baptists mirrored his own personal beliefs in church and state. He made it clear to them that their complaints were no business of Congress or the Executive.

Conclusion

In conclusion, in the comparison of these three articles, the question of “What do you think the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution thought about the separation of church and state?” can now be addressed. I think that the founding fathers were of a Christian worldview, however I believe that these men had deep convictions about the freedom of religion. Their religious freedoms, while only addressing a different denomination not an entirely different religion altogether, were one of the main reasons they wanted freedom from a tyrannical monarchy. I believe that they felt they had God-given rights that no man was to take away from them, and I believe there is a reason that the word “Creator” was used in the Declaration of Independence, not just the word “God”. I am implored to believe that for the founding fathers this was as simple as the style of language back then, but in the awesomeness of an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God that this was His ordained plan to universalize the article for as far forward as the year 2019.

I believe that the founding fathers felt that religion was not the responsibility of the government, as it is never once addressed in the Constitution other than to clarify that there is a freedom to practice religion for it’s citizens. I also believe that they felt religion was not to trifle with or persuade the government, as addressed in the Letter to Danbury Baptists by Thomas Jefferson. I think that while these men held deep religious conviction about serving the Lord, and even despite their own personal disagreements and beliefs about theology and where God belonged, that they decided and held to the belief that it was not the responsibility of government officials to tell their citizens who to worship or how to worship. And so the founding fathers created the United States of America and left a legacy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness available to every citizen that God put on this planet and allowing him or her their God given free will.

References

  1. The Constitution Explained – The U.S. Constitution Online. Retrieved from
  2. https://www.usconstitution.net/constquick.html
  3. Declaration of Independence: A Transcription. Retrieved from
  4. https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript
  5. The Declaration of Independence: What Does it Say? (n.d.). Retrieved from
  6. https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration/what-does-it-say
  7. Jefferson’s Wall of Separation Letter – The U.S. Constitution Online. Retrieved from
  8. https://usconstitution.net/jeffwall.html