Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The natural rights of men

Philosophers since the ancient Greeks have argued for natural rights. These are rights we are born with and that can only be taken away by a written constitution or a government or a ruler.

Natural rights are rights provided by the gods, or by God, or by nature. We are born with these rights. These are rights that are shared equally by all men at birth, and are inalienable, and, therefore, cannot be taken away except by the actions of corrupt leaders.

When the United States was formed, the people of the U.S. entered into an agreement by signing the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which were intended to protect our natural rights.  In other words, the founders wanted to make sure that the U.S. government would not be allowed to make any law that took away any of our natural rights, something kings and queens were prone to do.

John Locke (1632 to 1704) wrote about natural rights, and how the purpose of government was to protect these natural rights and, at the same time, the right to "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness," as Thomas Jefferson would later write in the Declaration of Independence.

Of course we must understand that, once we take the words of Jefferson in full content, he wrote:
"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."
In other words, he was assuming the people knew their other natural rights, and, considering the times, most people were privy to such knowledge.  Jefferson was fine with making this assumption considering political philosophy such as this was widely read in the 18th century, and the idea of natural rights was widely accepted by the colonists.

Samuel Adams, in Right of the Colonists, said:
"Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature."
He also wrote:
"The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but only to have the law of nature for his rule."
So, that in mind, the following are the natural rights of man that Jefferson assumed the rest of mankind was privy to, and to which many modern people have unduly forgotten:
  • Life
  • Liberty
  • Pursuit of Happiness
  • Property
  • To defend himself
  • To defend his property
  • To live where he chooses
  • To leave the society he belongs to
  • To enter into society by voluntary consent
  • To demand and insist upon the performance of society based on the original compact
  • Every natural right not expressly ceded to society by a code remains to the people
  • The right of the people to peacefully assemble
  • The right of individuals to worship God as to the dictates of his conscience
  • Every man is, under God, judge and sole judge of his own rights and of the injuries done him
  • A fair trial of his peers
  • A right to not plea in his own defense
  • To pay for the trouble of those who come to his defense
  • To be willing to pay his just quota for the support of government, the law, and the constitution; the end of which is to furnish indifferent and impartial judges in all cases that may happen, whether civil, ecclesiastical, marine, or military.
  • To sign into an agreement of government for common defense
  • To determine what fair wages are
  • To keep the money he earns minus that of which he owes to his debtors, or the minimum needed to keep the government he agrees to join running
  • To not give up his natural rights by entering into society
Regarding this list, Adams said the following:
"In short, it is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in the power of one, or any number of men, at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those rights; when the grand end of civil government, from the very nature of its institution, is for the support, protection, and defense of those very rights; the principal of which, as is before observed, are Life, Liberty, and Property. If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society would absolutely vacate such renunciation. The right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave.
Thus, as humans, we all have natural rights that can only be taken away by a governmental pact. Yet, by the signing of the U.S. Constitution, the founding fathers were certain our natural rights were therefore protected.

Still, and thankfully so, to be on the safe side they signed into law the Bill of Rights, which basically placed all the natural rights of men in a step by step fashion and made it into law that the U.S. government shall not be allowed to make any law taking these rights away from any U.S. citizen.

The intent of incorporating natural rights of men into the founding documents was to protect the minority from the majority.

Note:  By men, the founding fathers were referring to mankind, meaning both men and women.  In the 18th century this was well understood, although since then there has been much confusion regarding the term.