Civics education in America starts with the Declaration of Independence and Constitution

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Constitution of America, We the People withAmerican flag.

*Originally Published in the Tennessean

Former Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers writes a regular column about the Declaration of Independence and Constitution to promote civics education.

Paul G. Summers

Guest Columnist

  • Paul G. Summers is an attorney. He is a former appellate and senior judge, district attorney general, and the attorney general of Tennessee.

Editor’s note: This is a regular feature on issues related to the Constitution and civics written by Paul G. Summers, retired judge and state attorney general.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are our founding documents. They are the bedrocks or foundations of our government in the United States.

Our Constitution is the supreme rule of law in the land.

Constitution of America, We the People withAmerican flag.

When one has an issue to decide, he or she must go back to the original framers of our Constitution to see what they were thinking when they created such provisions.

 

Related: Mike Sparks: ‘Democracy Dies in the Darkness’

A person can read the Declaration to embellish or shed light on the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence establishes the legal and moral principles upon which our Constitution and provisions are based.

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No study of government in America and the states can begin without visiting our founding documents. We must look to the original intent of the drafters of our Constitution. Our Declaration of Independence declared that we considered ourselves free from the bonds of Great Britain. Our Constitution, together with its 27 Amendments, is supreme. If an issue, federal or state, conflicts with a provision of our Constitution, it is unconstitutional.

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Founders wanted to be free from oppression

Our Declaration of Independence was drafted in Philadelphia in 1776 by our Founding Fathers. This document declared our independence from Great Britain. John Hancock, later famous for his historical autograph, and 55 other courageous men signed the Declaration. They were considered valiant and brave by many of their fellow colonists.

This illustrates James Smith’s arrival in York on July 6, 1776, where he read a printed copy of the Declaration of Independence. He would later sign the familiar handwritten document, one of two signers to be buried in York County. Philip Livingston of New York is the other. The 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence will be celebrated nationally and locally in 2026.

By the Crown they probably were deemed traitors. On that July 4th those 56 Founders did not know if they were signing their death warrants or a declaration of separation from the King of England. They signed because they thought it was right and just.
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Related: Preserve the Constitution: Heritage Foundation

Those Founding Fathers were truly selfless. They were concerned with freedoms – not politics, polls, or ideology.


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Then came the Revolutionary War. Eleven years later, in 1787, a new nation, free and independent from Great Britain, was born – the United States of America.

After many patriots had fought and died on the battlefields, we were free from the bonds of a country across the Atlantic Ocean over 4,000 miles away.

 

After the United States was born, many of these men, plus others, met once again to form a new government and draft a plan for governing.

The plan became known as the Constitution of the United States of America. Two years later, after the Constitution was ratified by nine of the newly formed states, we had a new government. That was just the beginning of governing. But we had a supreme document: the Constitution.

No person is above the law; we are all equal under the law

The Declaration, familiar to students of history and civics, states: “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….”

This principle is what we call “The Rule of Law.” 

All persons are equal; no man or woman is above the law; and governments are created and instituted by the people.

Paul G Summers

Our backstory study of American government and our founding documents will continue in later editions. Please read the Declaration and the Constitution. It is time well spent.

Paul G. Summers is an attorney. He is a former appellate and senior judge, district attorney general, and the attorney general of Tennessee. Raised in Fayette County, Judge Summers lives in Nashville and Holladay.