Government Violations of the Constitution and The Declaration of Independence Ideals

Government Violations of the Constitution and The Declaration of Independence Ideals

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are widely perceived as closely related texts since they tend to postulate corresponding constitutional values. Specifically, many of the paragraphs in the Declaration seem to clarify or emphasize the founding generation’s meaning. The Declaration proffers fundamental philosophies for fulfilling the duties, aims, and functions of government. The ideologies therein introduce limits and accord specific obligations on bureaucrats, rendering unconstitutional any policies or actions to the contrary. Acceptably, a constitutional state entails one whose bureaucrats must follow the normative and written directions on the application of authority to facilitate the people’s safety and contentment. Both the Declaration and the Constitution define the order of administration, violations of which constitute arbitrary decree[1]. The original Constitution tended to support the institution of slavery, which was contrary to the morals and virtues postulated in the Declaration. The Reconstruction Amendments set out to reaffirm the state’s commitment to the philosophy of representative government, which, according to the Declaration, was to be the foundation of the nation’s ethos. These amendments paved the way for the initiation of several other constitutional changes aimed at establishing a legislative framework that was supportive of a free, equal, and fair society. Regrettably, the very tenets of the reinforced Constitution and the ethos of the Declaration have been violated, not once, but severally by successive bureaucratic regimes, resulting in adverse implications for some individuals and communities.

The Vision and Values of the Constitution and its Founding Context

Through its assertions against the King, the Declaration expresses a foundational comprehension among the Founding generation that liberty, equality, and opportunity comprised essential rights. Specifically, the text supported the assumption that legitimate government is established on the consent of the governed[2]. The decree therein also proffers that the power and authority of government should be structured in a manner that enables it to affirmatively “secure and effect” individual rights and liberties of its citizens. Additionally, the Declaration reflected the main principles restricting administrative authority. Among the justifications for independence was the King’s promotion of military power over civilian control, his continued meddling with judicial freedom, his disregard of popular election, and his imposition of taxes without appropriate representation[3]. By acknowledging these acts as being oppressive, the Declaration set the basis for the Founding generation to define the limitations of governmental authority.

Fundamental commitments to the ideals supported by the Declaration have been evident in the provisions of the Constitution since its founding. Even before the implementation of any changes, the Constitution centered around the ideals of equality, democracy, and individual liberty[4]. It also expressed its commitment to the formulation of a carefully structured system of administrative authority proportionate to the citizen’s needs. These commitments are reflected in the various texts of the Constitution as follows.

The Preamble. The ambitions, mission, and vision of the Constitution are reflected explicitly in its opening words. As has been widely asserted by the Supreme Court, “The constitution of the United States was ordained and established, not by the states in their sovereign capacities, but emphatically, as the preamble of the constitution declares, by the people of the United States”[5] Based on this Declaration, the Constitution’s legitimacy if founded in the concept of democratic self-administration. The Constitution’s primary aim, as emphasized in the text, is to establish a system of “Justice,” promote domestic “Tranquility,” facilitate public “Defense,” support the overall “Welfare,” and protecting the “Blessings of Liberty.”[6] While no single interpretation has covered these phrases with precision, the mere fact that they are repeated vastly in the Constitution denotes the prominence they were bestowed.

Government Powers. The Constitution sought to extend the powers and authority of the federal government beyond the scope supported by the Articles of Confederation to enhance the latter’s efforts in facilitating the nation’s needs. At the same time, the Framers established a framework of separated powers through the creation of distinct executive, legislative, and judicial branches to moderate the application of the elevated national powers.

In Article I, the Constitution’s Framers established a broad range of congressional powers. Among these powers was the power to regulate business and relations among local states, as well as with foreign nations, the ability to impose a tax and spend for the nation’s welfare, and the power to develop a framework for naturalizing welcome immigrants, among others[7]. Additionally, Article I authorized Congress to establish and implement “necessary and proper” laws for executing the various enumerated powers accorded to the national government.

Article II seeks to establish the office of the President with the designated duty of “taking Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”[8] The Article also positions the President as the Commander in Chief of the nation’s armed forces with powers to select the government’s principal officers. While confining these powers to the President, the Constitution also provides that their application must be in collaboration with Congress. Thus, while the President is empowered by the Constitution to appoint Judges and other principal government officers, the process therein requires the endorsement of the Senate, as do the appointment of ambassadors and establishment of treaties. Any attempt by one party to undermine or disregard the other in such processes is perceived as a violation of the Constitution.

Liberty, Democracy, and Protection Against Government Oppression. While acknowledging the need for an effective government, the Constitution’s Framers also sought to ensure that governmental powers will not be applied to suppress dissent, obstruct democracy, and restrict liberty. The Framers of the 1789 Constitution thought it necessary to incorporate specific protections against government abuse in the text despite its relatively structural nature.[9] For instance, the need for the involvement of a jury in court trials, as stipulated in Article III, section 2, was aimed at facilitating protection against government suppression of dissent. Protection of democracy was also instituted vastly in the 1789 version of the Constitution[10]. For instance, Article I sought to establish an exclusive criterion for eligible candidates for Congress. While lacked the then elusive elements of inclusivity and equality, the criterion marked a departure from the existing hereditary and class-based leadership and the various restrictive state makeups that barred many people from vying for elected positions. It was, however, until the passage of the Bill of Rights that most of the Constitution’s articles that protected individual liberties, democracy, equality, and opportunity were extended to cover all citizens, including women and the minorities.

Incidences of Governments Violations of the Ideals of the Declaration and the Constitution

Despite the continued emphasis on the significance of upholding the statutes of the Constitution and the Declaration, there have been various incidences in which they have been violated. Naturally, it becomes a matter of utmost concern to the people when government bureaucrats conspire amongst themselves to abuse the powers invested in them by the Constitution. Even worse, is when such officials utilize their powers to suppress the ensuing criticisms and evade accountability.

1890 Wounded Knee Massacre and Ghost Dance. The circumstances surrounding 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre and Ghost Dance are widely perceived among the incidences in which government officials went to the extreme in abusing their Constitutional mandates. Determined to settle the western frontier, and inspired further by the discovery of gold in Colorado, South Dakota, and California, the government resolved to employ direct military confrontation to subdue native resistance to white infringement[11]. The ensuing confrontation resulted in the massacre of at least 200 Sioux natives, including women and children. Before the incidence, the government had engaged Sioux leaders in a bid to persuade them to relinquish part of its vast hunting grounds[12]. However, the initial treaty was changed by government following the discovery of gold at the Black Hills. The deadly invasion was subsequently sanctioned after the Sioux community refused to comply with the new demands. Despite the devastating outcomes of the incursion, the officer in charge, Col. James W. Forsyth, was cleared of all charges and reinstated to his former post[13]. Additionally, 20 of his cavalrymen were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, which is the highest medal of honor in the U.S. forces. In the aftermath of the confrontation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) attempted to justify the invasion claiming that it was necessary to protect the general welfare of the Indian community. Daniel F. Royer, the then head of the Pine Ridge Agency, insisted that the Ghost Dancers were militant and threatened to derail the government’s decades-long struggle to “civilize” the Oglala Lakota[14].

Acceptably, the actions of the bureaucrats that resulted in the Wounded Knee Massacre were an infringement on the liberties and sovereignty of the Sioux natives. Here, the government engaged in one of the very acts that led the citizens to declare their independence from the British – the use of the military to control people. The Declaration states that the King has “quartered large bodies of armed troops among us.” Thus, by deploying its military to the Sioux, the government had deliberately violated the values of the Declaration. Additionally, the act was against the statutes of the Constitution, which seeks to protect against government oppression. Despite being natives, the Plain Indians were citizens born in the United States, and, therefore, had enjoyed the protection of the Constitution. In this regard, the government infringed on their liberties to practice their culture – the Ghost Dance – and hold property. In this instance, the government engaged in unnecessary political profiling of the Sioux residents leading to the massacre of its citizens.

White Race Riots – The Red Summer of 1919. The period between 1824 and 1951 was one that witnessed high numbers – over 300 – of confrontations between the White and Black communities[15]. The year 1919 is mainly remembered for having recorded 29 of such significant conflicts. That year alone resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Black Americans in what is widely referred to as The Red Summer of 1919.[16] In Helena and Philips, Arkansas, for instance, white landowners hunted Blacks through the streets and woods like dogs after a sheriff was killed following a misunderstanding at a Black farmers’ sharecroppers meeting. The sheriff had stormed the meeting in the company of other whites and attempted to unarm the Blacks, believing that they were planning an attack on the Whites. The ensuing hunts following the death of the sheriff resulted in the deaths of over 854 Blacks.[17]

A common characteristic during the Red Summer Riots was that the government did not offer the Blacks any protection, and, in some instances, aided the Whites in their heinous activities. While the National Guardsmen and the policemen intervened by disarming the Blacks, they would withdraw back, leaving the unarmed Blacks at the mercies of the White “hunters.” In a subsequent confrontation in 1921 – Tulsa Race Riot – the government even used police airplanes to drop nitroglycerin and dynamite on homes and business facilities belonging to the Blacks in attempts to “put them back in their place.” Despite what is considered the most massive spate of government extremes in violating the liberties of the Black community, none of the bureaucrats and White “hunters” was ever convicted of any crime.

The Brutal Murder of Gordon Kahl. The shooting and killing of Gordon Kahl in 1983 have also been widely associated with government’s tendency to use excessive power to silence dissent. Kahl was the leader of a protest group called Posse Comitatus, whose purpose was to oppose government oppression through taxation[18]. Kahl had not filed his tax returns since he “never made enough money to pay taxes.”[19] The government did not bother him until he appeared on Tv and expressed his anti-government beliefs. He was promptly arrested and accused of tax evasion. Consequently, he was killed in an ambush at his home, and his son and wife detained and arraigned in court.[20]

Gordon Kahl’s case has been widely perceived as a well-orchestrated move by government bureaucrats to silence its critics. Kahl’s failure to file his tax returns and his anti-semantic and anti-government retorts were never of much concern to the government until he started airing them on Tv. The government was particularly concerned by the many live calls that Kahl was receiving in support of his sentiments. The fact that the government became interested in him at this point suggests that its actions were motivated purely by the desire to suppress his dissent and its influence on the public. The actions therein were a direct violation of the Constitution’s directive concerning the government’s use of power. The government acted in a manner that infringed on Kahl’s right of expression through speech as stipulated in the Bill of Rights.

Government Abuse of Michael Williams. Michael Williams’s narrative entails a typical case of the interference of the legal system by the criminal elite to suppress dissent. Williams’ woes began following his decision to venture into politics and support Gary Hart’s presidential bid in the 1988 race[21]. While managing his friend’s campaign, Williams acquired information that would have significantly dented the political ambitions of some elites. As a result, he was arrested by the FBI “without a warrant or indictment” and “shuttled around the entire federal prison system.”[22] Consequently, he was arraigned in a court presided by a judge who was a close associate of one of his political foes and convicted of fraud. The ensuing events forced Williams into exile, thus, suppressing his initial grievances.

The events surrounding Williams’ case depict a direct violation of the Founders’ ideal of an independent judiciary to protect oppression of dissent. The actions by the Williams’ political foes were against the provisions in Article III, section 2 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to a fair trial. By arresting and detaining Williams without following due course, the political elites and the FBI violated Williams’ rights as detailed in the Bill of Rights’ Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments, which offer protection against “unreasonable searches,” guarantee of “due process of law” and “prohibit cruel punishments,” respectively.

How the Public has Attempted to Rectify Government Violations of the Constitution

The people, as the custodians of the Constitution, have engaged several mechanisms at their disposal to discourage government tendencies to violate the Constitution. The strategies utilized by the public are vast and differ depending on the urgency of arising issues. Notably, reactions to government oppression may involve individualistic, collective, or social organization responses. These responses may be expressed through democratic action, protests, or petitions to either unseat and replace an existing administration or compel a sitting government to take action.

Democracy. Democracy is considered a means for governed people to elect officials who can make decisions that reflect their wishes. According to Sean, democracy “is a system that allows no individual to choose himself, invest himself with the power to rule,”[23] which implies “no one accord himself unconditional power.”[24] Thus, modern democracy is a system through which leaders can be held accountable for their actions by citizens through the indirect cooperation and competition of their representatives.

As a democratic community, the people of the United States have continually engaged in voting exercises to elect representatives they believe have the capacity to meet their needs and protect their rights as detailed in the Constitutions. Through the same process, the citizens are able to participate indirectly in crucial decision-making processes by ensuring they are appropriately represented in both houses. Thus, democracy is the first line of defense for citizens in safeguarding their constitutional rights and privileges.

Protests and Movements. Protests have been relatively common in the United States since its independence. Throughout the history of the country, citizens have used their individual and collective voices to promote change, express their dissent, and call government to order[25]. Naturally, protests entail public expressions of disapproval, objection or dissent towards an idea or action – often a political one. Examples of such undertakings in the U.S. include the Civil Rights Movement protests in the early 1900s, the 1969 Anti-Vietnam War Protest, and the Antinuclear March. Protests serve to alter an exiting agenda and prompt debates on ongoing government activities.

Petitions. The First Amendment accords American citizens one of the most critical mechanisms for calling the government to account. The amendment gives people the “right to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances[26]. Specifically, the clause allows citizens to highlight wrongdoings by government and call for appropriate changes[27]. A typical example of such petitions is the women’s petition to Congress to put an end to women’s suffrage and slavery during the nineteenth-century. In the modern age, such petitions are usually conducted online to acquire signers.


The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are critical documents that provide the basic framework upon which government institutions and individual privileges are established. The texts are particular importance since they facilitate the establishment and sustenance of an affirmative government system. Notably, the Founders were comprehensive in their endeavor and facilitated the necessary protective features to ensure the protection of the ordinary citizens. A deficiency of these features would have yielded in the establishment of extremely powerful bureaucratic institutions within the government that would have oppressed and frustrated others without the fear of accountability.

[1] Alexander, Tsesis. “The Declaration of Independence and Constitutional Interpretation.” Southern California Law Revie, vol. 89, no. 369, (2016), 379

[2] Goodwin, Liu et al. Keeping Faith with the Constitution. (Oxford University Press, 2010)8.

[3] Goodwin, Liu et al., 8.

[4] Goodwin, Liu et al., 8

[5] Goodwin, Liu et al., 10

[6] Goodwin, Liu et al., 10

[7] United States Constitution. Art. I.

[8] United States Constitution. Art. II.


[9] Goodwin, Liu et al., 11.

[10] United States Constitution. Art. III, Sec. 2

[11] Vincent, Roscigno, J. “Legitimation, State Repression, and the Sioux Massacre at Wounded Knee.” Mobilization: An International Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 1, (2015), 19.

[12] Vincent, Roscigno, J., 17.

[13]. Vincent, Roscigno, J., 21.

[14] Vincent, Roscigno, J., 21.

[15] Gregory, Brown, E. “As American As Apple Pie: White Race Riots in America.” (n.d.). Accessed 28 April

[16] Gregory, Brown, E.

[17] Gregory, Brown, E.

[18] Frank, Rajkowski. “Flashback Friday: Manhunt for Gordon Kahl Ended in Bloody Shootout 35 Years Ago.” Eye Witness News, 1 June, 2018. Accessed 28 April 2020.

[19] Frank Rajkowski.

[20] Frank Rajkowski.

[21] Michael, Williams. “Patriot in Exile.” Accessed 28 April

[22] Michael, Williams

[23] Sean, Lynn-Jones, M. “Why the United States Should Spread Democracy.” Belfer Center, 1998. Accessed 28 April 2020.

[24] Sean, Lynn-Jones, M

[25] Elena, Lanchovichina, et al. “Why are People Protesting?” Brookings, 29 January 2020. Accessed 28 April


[26] Editorials. U.S. Institutions – Why is the First Amendment Important? 20 February, 2017. Accessed 28 April

[27] Tiffany, Middle. “Right to Petition.” American Bar Association, 14 November, 2019. Accessed 28 April 2020.–right-to-petition/.

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