The Declaration of Independence forthrightly states "We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The origin of these Rights is "...the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God..." (Declaration of Independence). The Founders used the principle of Natural Law as the basis for the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitution. This makes the concept of Natural Rights extraordinarily important when examining the foundations of our government. However, despite this, the Natural Law argument seems to have become lost in current politics and judicial debates.
Why is this? I believe it arises due to two main problems. First, the American people have lost faith in a "Creator" who serves as the basis for these rights. Secondly, in reaction to the former, scholars, as well as, judges have begun to focus on conventional rights, such as those in the Constitution, instead of Natural Rights. In this article, I will examine where the concept of Natural Law originated, what it means, and demonstrate its absence from current politics.
John Locke, a man the Founders looked to for the philosophical foundations of this nation, used the term "Natural Law" in his Second Treatise on Government. He wrote,
The State of Nature has a Law of Nature to govern it which obliges everyone:... that being all equal and independent no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions (Locke, 270-71).
His idea was rooted in the belief that Nature created man and, th...
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...an act of legislation which is contrary to the first great principles of social compact (those in the Declaration of Independence) cannot be considered a rightful exercise of legislative authority and must therefore be overturned. Justice Thomas eloquently sums up the need for the reemergence of the Natural Law argument in his article "Toward a 'Plain Reading' of the Constitution" when he writes "The first purposes of equality and liberty should inspire our political and constitutional thinking."
Basler, Roy, ed. Lincoln in Text and Context: The Collected Works. vol. IV. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1953.
Fehrenbacher, Don. Abraham Lincoln: A Documentary Portrait. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964.
Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. Ed. Peter Laslett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993
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