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The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty Hardcover – January 7, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Cato Institute; First Edition edition (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1939709032
  • ISBN-13: 978-1939709035
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #299,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Now the nation no longer lacks what it has long needed, a slender book that lucidly explains the intensity of conservatism's disagreements with progressivism. For the many Americans who are puzzled and dismayed by the heatedness of political argument today, the message of Timothy Sandefur's The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty is this: The temperature of today's politics is commensurate to the stakes of today's argument." -- George Will, The Washington Post

"This is an excellent book. I was just going to write it myself.... This book should be in everyone's library." --Hadley Arkes

"As a work of legal and American history, Sandefur's book is excellent.... At the legal level, Sandefur knows what is needed to defend our freedoms in the courts and law classrooms of America. May The Conscience of the Constitution reach minds far and wide."  --Slade Mendenhall, The Objective Standard

"A wonderful book.... One of the best minds on Con Law in the U.S." --Hugh Hewitt

"The Conscience of the Constitution posits a role for the Fourteenth Amendment in protecting natural rights from abuse at both the federal and state level. It is a great defense of individual liberty." --Senator Rand Paul

From the Inside Flap

The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty documents a vital, forgotten truth: our Constitution was written not to empower democracy, but to secure liberty. In fact, the word "democracy" does not occur in either the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. Yet, to author and constitutional scholar Timothy Sandefur, the overemphasis on democracy by today's legal community--rather than the primacy of liberty, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence--has helped expand the scope of government power at the expense of individual rights.

Now, more than ever, the Declaration of Independence should be the framework for interpreting our fundamental law. It is the conscience of the Constitution. "Liberty comes first and order arises from it," states Sandefur. "We have gone astray in our constitutional understanding because we have upended that relationship."

The Conscience of the Constitution traces this upheaval back to the timeless conflict between freedom and power that gave rise to the Civil War and that was revived again by the Supreme Court's disastrous ruling in the 1873 Slaughter-House cases. Sandefur then examines the origins of controversial legal theories such as "substantive due process" and "judicial activism" and defends them against a wave of arguments from both left and the right. Although both sides of the political spectrum criticize the courts today for protecting individual rights too effectively, Sandefur shows that in reality judges have often abdicated their duty to rein in government abuses.

Today, more and more Americans are witnessing their individual freedoms threatened and destroyed by the continually expanding grasp of government. While Americans will always differ over important political issues, our Constitution was meant to ensure that some things should not be settled by majority vote. In The Conscience of the Constitution, Timothy Sandefur presents a dramatic, richly compelling new challenge to the status quo of constitutional law.

More About the Author

Timothy Sandefur is a Principal Attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation. As the lead attorney in the Economic Liberty Project, he works to protect businesses against abusive government regulation. He has won important victories for free enterprise in California, Missouri, Oregon, and other states. He also works to prevent the abuse of eminent domain, having participated in many significant eminent domain cases, including Kelo v. New London. He is the author of three books, Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st Century America (2006), The Right to Earn A Living: Economic Freedom And The Law (2010), and The Conscience of The Constitution (2013), as well as some 45 scholarly articles on subjects ranging from eminent domain and economic liberty to copyright, evolution and creationism, slavery and the Civil War, and legal issues in Shakespeare and ancient Greek drama. He is a graduate of Chapman University School of Law and Hillsdale College. He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Cato Institute, and his articles have appeared in Liberty, National Review, The San Francisco Chronicle, Regulation, The Washington Times, and other places. He is a frequent guest on radio and television programs, including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, The Armstrong and Getty Show, NPR's This American Life, CNBC's Street Signs, Now with David Brancaccio and CPSAN's Book TV.

Customer Reviews

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Should be read by every American.
Amazon Customer
Difficult issues were easy to grasp and understanding was aided by clear transitions.
Amazon Customer
Tell us like it is and gives the information to back things up.
Rodney M Snow

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Mike Mertens on December 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this important and thought provoking book, Tim Sandefur does a very good job in demonstrating the importance of the Declaration of Independence in setting the philosophical context for the Constitution. This context is critical for securing “the blessings of liberty.” He sees the Declaration of Independence as the “regime philosophy” of the nation and notes that:

“The Declaration helps make constitutional priorities clear – that rights come first and government power only second – and thus it anchors our legal and political system on a firm philosophical ground.”

The book starts by discussing the difference between having freedom or democracy as the primary focal point. Freedom depends on the “presumption of liberty” found in the Declaration and he contrasts this with the views of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Robert Bork, Cass Sunstein and others. He makes it clear why the foundation matters and there are examples used throughout the book that illustrate the results of these differences.

After setting the philosophical context, he does a good job discussing the Civil War and the 14th Amendment. This section is well done in terms of the fight against slavery, the ideas of the abolitionists, the Dred Scott case, the 14th Amendment and some very interesting discussions on citizenship (state versus national), states rights and the unfortunate decision in the “Slaughter-House” cases.

The next 2 chapters defend Substantive Due Process. Sandefur notes that the due process of law started with the Magna Carta and covers a quick history of this idea (and emphasizes the importance of the “of law” part of the phrase). He then discusses the purpose of law as well as key elements in the rule of law. He uses Lawrence vs.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Juliesa on December 22, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is an systematic review of the Declaration of Independence as one of the founding documents of our country. We tend to view the Declaration as an explanation for the Revolution, and revere it as such. The author carefully explains that it deserves it's place along with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and doing so will enhance our understanding of the Founders vision of freedom. I, and I'm sure, many others, have never considered this. I think this book should be required reading for all government officials.
Sandefur is a well-known champion of freedom who has written two other books, Property Rights in 21st Century America, and The Right to Earn a Living.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Scott Ott on March 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Can the U.S. Constitution be understood independent of the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence?

Does the Constitution exist to protect democracy, or do democratic elements of the republic exist to protect individual liberty?

Is it possible that critics of "judicial activism" on the Right and Left have mistaken their preferences for Constitutionality?

Should judges defer to legislatures because the latter are "of the people", and legislative mistakes are easier to clean up than judicial precedents?

Timothy Sandefur grapples with these and related questions in a book that sets the Constitution in the context of the Declaration, and maintains that the former cannot be properly understood or applied without the principles of individual liberty espoused in the latter.

'Progressives', on the Right and Left, have convinced several generations of Americans that the Constitution favors majoritarianism over individual rights, democracy over liberty. Sandefur, however, says that legislatures incline toward tyranny as easily as monarchs, and that courts see their role properly when they restrain lawmakers within the bounds of the Constitution as seen through the lens of the Declaration.

'The Conscience of the Constitution' makes a compelling, thoughtful case, in accessible and vigorous prose, that we need to return to a jurisprudence, as well as a framework for lawmaking and implementation that couples these two founding documents.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Boyd Southam on January 7, 2014
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Tim's straight forward lay out the facts way of presenting the argument is refreshing. It is also nice that it's not too long of a book, just lays out what he believes, presents historical arguments to back it up and lets the reader decide.

Just as good as his book "Right to earn a living" but an easier quicker read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Daune Robinson on May 3, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author gives us an insight into some of the significant differences facing us today - big government vs limited government, individual rights vs the good of the collective, and most important (I think) democracy vs individual liberty. I suspect that his arguments were successful with me because I agree instinctively and intellectually with the author's reverence for the Declaration of Independence, with his perspective on the natural rights each human is born with as opposed to being granted those rights at the will of a democratic government. I'm not sure the arguments were strong enough to convince a person opposed to Sandefur's opinions to agree with him, but he did provide an abundance of additional reading in every aspect of the argument for limited government and individual liberty.

I found the Supreme court cases he referred to particularly interesting - it was enlightening to see the variation of interpretation from the early days of the Court to current cases, and to look at them through the lens of protecting individual liberty versus protecting democratic rule. I suspect we would all benefit if more people looked at the basic differences this author brings out as he discusses the philosophical differences between pure democratic rule and democratic principles based on a moral, natural right to individual liberty.

Another interesting tension the author discusses is states rights versus the protection of individual liberty under federal government and the support states rights provided to the issue of slavery and "separate but equal" laws that have plagued our nation since its inception.
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