The Legality of the Declaration of Independence

In spite of the fact that it matters not a bit at this point, British and American lawyers met in Philadelphia recently to discuss the legality of the Declaration of Independence. According to the BBC, the arguments presented at the debate can be summarized as follow:

It was legal:

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.

It was illegal:

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.

Again, recognizing that it doesn't much matter at this point, I would nonetheless tend to side with the British viewpoint. The Texas hypothetical is a very persuasive one in my humble opinion, and I think that it was very clever to bring the venerated Lincoln into the debate the way they did. I also think that there is something to the idea that the grievances of colonists fell short of justifying secession. Though as an American I am happy that things worked out the way they did, it is clear that case for independence was anything but self-evident.

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