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July 2017 Brief: Volume 24, Number 19

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A Commentary on the American Founding


by Imitatus Publius



The Constitution may well be a living document in as much as it may be duly amended and in the sense that if we honor its intent, it will protect our precious liberty. But if we are allowed to change the results produced by the document simply by changing the perspective from which we view it, we have a document that has become useless to implement the results for which it was intended. It would seem to me that there can be only one perspective that is suitable for our purpose, and that would be the perspective that held sway at the time the instrument was ratified.


Furthermore, it would seem that if we stray from our Founders’ perspective and thereby proffer a meaning to the instrument that they did not intend, we have already slipped past constitutional bounds because there is no provision in the instrument to amend it in this manner. We must read the document through their eyes and endeavor to respect their experiences and opinions. Remember this phrase, for it is no small matter in the formation of our new government. It is the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” that our Founders acknowledge as the source of the authority (not power) upon which they were entitled to act.


For an act to be truly lawful, it must comport to the Natural Law, which is unchanging. For an act to be legal, it need only comport to “man’s law,” which is that code we promulgate in Washington and our state capitals. It can be, and is, changed at whim. And it may or may not comport to the Natural Law. John Adams stated the case most unequivocally when he said, “This is a government designed for the governance of a moral people, it is wholly unfit for the governance of any other.” What were the guiding principles of this new government to be? Our Founding Fathers were entirely clear in their declaration: “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.”


That the listing of rights is only partial is indicated by the phrase “that among these.” Our rights being innumerable, they made no attempt to list them all. But this short list contains all others, and the three rights listed comprise the cornerstone to first be placed on the bedrock. The phrase “pursuit of Happiness,” as found in some earlier writings of the period, includes “the right to private property.” It is the author’s contention that our Founders did indeed view this phrase as expressing the incontrovertible right of the sovereign individual to the uncontested fruit of his own labor. That is, it is the sovereign individual’s right to retain one hundred percent of his own production, ergo the right to private property. Natural Law would certainly suggest that no individual has the authority (right) to expropriate the fruit of his neighbor’s labor over his neighbor’s objections. It is quite probable that you have identified the condition just described as theft, and you would be correct in your judgment. An individual simply does not have the authority to steal. He doesn’t have the authority to steal for his own benefit. He doesn’t have the authority to steal for his family’s benefit. And he doesn’t have the authority to steal and then donate the benefits to the good cause of his choice.


In the Laws of Nature, the rights of an individual are not unlimited or absolute, and we gather no more rights to ourselves by simply becoming many. Further, the government can have no more authority than a sovereign individual because the individual cannot transfer rights he doesn’t possess himself to an agent to exercise on his behalf [i.e. if you don’t have the authority to allow a stranger into your neighbor’s house, you certainly do not have the authority to grant to a third party (government) the authority to allow a stranger into that house]. In other words, a government is limited to exactly the same rights we possess as individuals, and further, it has not the authority to cede the powers “we the people” have granted it to any other entity without our well-informed consent. If it does so, it is acting outside its authority and contrary to the natural law.


This is not to say that government doesn’t have more power than an individual. It does; indeed, power is a reason for its existence, i.e. to have an ability the individual acting alone does not possess. But do not confuse power with rights or authority. Government may appropriately exercise all the power the people may voluntarily choose to cede to it, but it may not exercise any rights over and above those enjoyed by the individual — for if it does, it is usurpation. “We the people” have pleaded with our central government to abide by the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God” and by the precepts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, to no avail. It is my sincere and fervent hope that enough people would come to know, understand, and appreciate the work of our Founders, that we might have the necessary numbers to elect statesmen capable and willing to peaceably rectify this nation’s problems.


Some may condemn this tract as advocating revolution, and so it is; but if you will review this tract dispassionately, you will find its advocacy to be one of education and understanding of our Founders’ vision for this nation — not a revolution of arms, but a call to return to the vision they laid out before us, a call to follow the example of their actions in the implementation of our government. But we cannot follow what we do not know. John Adams, in the year 1818, wrote a newspaper article for the Weekly Register of Baltimore, entitled, “What Do We Mean by the American Revolution,” in which he said, “The Revolution was affected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the Minds and Hearts of the People.”


Public Interest Institute’s POLICY STUDY, A Commentary on the American Founding, can be viewed at


Permission to reprint or copy in whole or part is granted, provided a version of this credit line is used:"Reprinted by permission from INSTITUTE BRIEF, a publication of Public Interest Institute." The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of Public Interest Institute. They are brought to you in the interest of a better-informed citizenry.




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