Declarations, Compacts, & the American Constitutional Tradition (Bruce Frohnen, November 20th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)

The American constitutional tradition stretches back beyond our shores to England (and, thence, through Rome, to Greece, and to Mt. Sinai). It is a tradition shaped on this continent by experience and the character of the people. Clearly, the rhetoric of one paragraph in one document of distinctly limited purpose cannot define such a tradition. Rather, the broad, thin claims of the Declaration, like the theologically and politically demanding purposes of the Compact, form parts of a federal vision of political society. In this vision, local communities play the primary role in government, protecting the fundamental institutions in which good character is formed. But beyond these communities there must be a wider, less organic and communitarian organization with the more limited purpose of defending the common good of the states and localities, securing them against foreign aggression and keeping the peace among them. What we have, then, in the transition between Compact and Declaration, is not “progress” toward ideological abstractions, but rather movement from the more local, organic, and primary, toward the more general and conventional. Both are necessary for a functioning society and can, as they did in America, work together to form a more perfect union.

Our texts vindicate–then universalize–our rights as Englishmen.