Was the declaration of independence illegal?
In 1776 the thirteen colonies declared independence from Great Britain. Unsurprisingly the 18th Century Britons took a dim view at this rebellion and sought to put it down resulting in a war that went on for seven years with the colonies receiving independence in the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The war has been caused by discontentment over increased taxation and particularly that the colonials did not have a say over the taxation. However from the point of view of the British the taxation was simply make good on the costs of defending the colonies during the previous war with France and to continue defending the frontier from native Americans.
Seceding from another country has always been a grey area in International Law. Back in 1776 there would have been know doubt in British minds that what the rebels were doing was illegal and treason - rebellion was usually couched in terms of removing advisers rather than attacking the state. Yet even on toady's terms it would not be certain that it would be legal despite more than 60 years of decolonisation there is no right to external self determination rather peoples should make do with internal self determination where they have considerable autonomy within their current state. However we know that many states have become independent through rebellion.Is it simply a case of successful rebellions are legal while unsuccessful ones are illegal? A case of history being written by the victors.
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Organic Act of September 9, 1850
As per the Organic Act of September 9, 1850, The state of Utah could not gain independence from the United States because decisions on the independence of states, counties and so on was to be decided and determined by the U.S congress.
""SECTION 6. The legislative power shall extend to all rightful subjects of legislation consistent with the Constitution of the United States and the provisions of this act."
By the ninth section, the judicial power was vested in a supreme court, district courts, probate courts, and justices of the peace, whose jurisdiction was to be limited by law."
In other words the United States made illegal, the emancipation of any of its territory against the will of its government. Thus by US law the declaration of independence was void. Since it occurred against the admission of the British or presiding government. [[http://supreme.justia.com/us/85/317/case.html]]
The Organic Act of September 9, 1850, was written after U.S independence, is an American act and no such British act existed at the time when the declaration was made. [[http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0074_0700_ZO.html]]
Self determination was not served
[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination_theory]] Self determination is, crudely put: independent thought and action. Can People dancing to the tune of crowd psychology be deemed 'independent', we think not. Free speech, democracy and free choice all factor in self determination but refusing to pay taxes temporarily for no rhyme or reason does not, If paying taxes was that much of an issue for the British settlers that they declared independence from Britain, why did they resume taxation under what became the U.S constitution? [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxation_in_the_United_States]]
The act of declaration is akin to a child running away from home after a tantrum over pocket money and then coming back later in the day/week or settling for a job where s/he makes less than the pocket money s/he complained of. It may have been a mere matter of pride, ego and ephemeral grievance illegally expressed rather than the sound legal action it is remembered and touted to have been.
This was not a tantrum comparing it to one is disrespectful to an extent. The Americans never changed their minds about their independence. The USA unlike Canada, Australia and the commonwealth nations has no constitutional connection with the British government.
"We, the people" made the decision to quit Britain and they did.
"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."
What is legal is determined in the court of law, the courts near where the declaration of independence was made, decided in favour of the Americans and that decision determines the legality of the act. A person caught stealing is not a criminal until and unless the illegality of what s/he did is determined and proven in court.
"Definition of TREASON:
1. the betrayal of a trust : treachery
2. the offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign's family"
Trust was not betrayed as the grievances of the poverty stricken settlers being taxed by the British government were known. And there was no attempt to overthrow the British government.
The British(Oxford dictionary) definition of the kind of treason relevent to this debate is as follows:
"1. Treason (also high treason)[mass noun] the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government:
they were convicted of treason" [[http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/treason]]
Did the British citizens betray their country when renouncing their citizenship and refusing to pay taxes? The proposition ascertains, yes they did.
"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."[[http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15345511]]
Self-determination as defined by the UN charter(there was incidentally, no UN either) was not legal at the time therefore the Declaration of independence 'was' not legal.
United nations Charter on selfdetermination
It is the democratic mission of IDEA, USAID and the United Nations to spread a desirable dose of democracy across the globe. True democracy can be spelled out as the popular American dictum "Will of the people". The will of the people cannot be served without the legal admission of self determination. The settlers served their will and the will of their people by declaring independence from Britain which was very much a democracy at the time as well.
"The United Nations Charter states that one of the purposes of the UN is: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples”. Charter of the United Nations Chapter 1, Article 1" [[http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/]] [[http://debatewise.org/debates/694-self-determination-is-a-more-important-driving-force-in-the-international-community-than-the-sanctity-of-international-borders]]
The charter is void in determining the legality of the declaration of independence when the united Nations had not yet come to exist.
However the U.N charter is self-contradictory as it aims to protect the sovereignty of nations while permitting allowance for self determination. What the Americans did was not self determination since it was neither true that all the settlers were British nor that the majority of the British people were settlers. The 'will of the people' can only be assessed democratically if and only if the 'will' concerned is of the majority or the whole. How can the will of a minority represent the will of the people?
"The United Nations hedges its bets. One of the main principles of international relations is sovereignty, this conflicts with ideas of self determination. The United Nations therefore has statements supporting both sides as “Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” Article 6, General Assembly Resolution 1514, 14th December 1960," [[http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/15/ares15.htm]]
What do you think?