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The Declaration of Independence and Business Formality

"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."
-Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

The Declaration of Independence is among the greatest pieces of writing in human history. The words of these documents have undoubtedly changed the "Course of human events," founding a nation and structuring a government that has done untold good on this earth. Because a nation began on July 4, 1776, American citizens have saved the world from the evils of Nazism and Communism, leveraged prosperity to deliver aid in times of disaster in developing countries, and welcomed immigrants seeking a place to work and raise a family. Yes, we have not always done what was right, but on this July 4th holiday, let's remind ourselves of this: we are a great nation, and one of our most treasure documents has much to do with that.

The Declaration is more than some eloquent words written with excellent penmanship. Indeed, it is a legal document whose significance parallels business organization law. More specifically, the Declaration serves as our nation's articles of incorporation.

In business law articles of incorporation are necessary for the government to recognize the formal existence of the organization, its incorporators, and the powers the business will enjoy. For example, in Indiana if a group of individuals wishes to start a plumbing business, the group must file paperwork (the articles of incorporation) stating  the name of the corporation. In addition the group of aspiring business owners may set forth in the articles of incorporation the purposes for which it is incorporating, such as to conduct any lawful business. The language contained in the articles of incorporation is somewhat flexible, but the words contained in the articles are of utmost significance.

The words are significant because they cannot be undone haphazardly. Now the organization is not just subject to federal and state law, but also to the law of the corporation itself, namely its articles of incorporation. Returning to our example of the plumbing corporation, once the name and purpose of a company are stated in articles of incorporation, they are in essence "set in stone." The only way to change them is to amend the articles of incorporation, which can be a major procedural problem in the business.

So how does the Declaration serve as our nation's articles of incorporation? The Declaration does this in several ways.

First, just as articles are filed with the state to begin its corporate life, the Declaration is a statement to the overseeing authority of governmental associations to begin its nationhood. Specifically, the overseeing authority is God, "the Supreme Judge of the World." The founders appealed not to mankind for recognition of nationhood but to "our Creator" who raises up nations and casts them down (Dan. 2:21).  In keeping with corporate formality, the Declaration lets it known to the world and to God himself that a new government is founded. The Declaration is a statement for formal recognition of the new nation's lawful existence.

Second, as business law includes an identification of the incorporator(s), so also does the Declaration. The Declaration begins by stating it is the declaration of "the thirteen united States of America." Business law grants to incorporators the authority to decide for themselves how the business will operate. Similarly, the Declaration states that the "business" of government derives its "just power from the consent of the governed." Thus, the thirteen states are the incorporators of our country.

Third, as business law allows for the articles of incorporation to describe the powers of the organization, so the Declaration formally states the powers of the thirteen independent, united states. For instance, a nonprofit organization must abide by strict rules of the Internal Revenue Service to receive tax exempt status. One rule includes how money will be spent. To receive tax exempt status, it thus becomes necessary to include language in the articles of incorporation that will empower the organization to take those actions that are in keeping with the requirements of tax exempt status. Even so, the Declaration of Independence empowers the thirteen states the "full Power to Levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do." Thus, the general authority of each state is contained within the Declaration.

Our Founding Fathers were legal scholars. They understood the significance of legal documents, and they made sure that they crafted a document that considered the laws of men and of "Nature's God." Their careful attention to legal formality, even to the finest details, is a reminder for us to do the same today.