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February 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-2

   

A Commentary on the American Founding

   

Part 2

   

 

We can start to draw some enlightenment in this matter from the Declaration of Independence.  In the very first sentence of this sacred document, they proclaim their right to be freemen:

 

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. (Emphasis added.)

 

They state, unequivocally, that they have a right to be and fully intend to be a sovereign nation, the equal of any other on earth.  And that right is wholly dependent on the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” and nothing else.  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.  (We will deal with the difference between authority and power and the importance of that difference later.)

 

Today, little attention is given to the phrase “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”  It is all but ignored, a source of embarrassment; and many attempt to banish it from public consciousness or hold it up for ridicule.  Might we be the ones in error?  James Madison was one of the most influential of our Founders.  He became the fourth President of the United States.  He was also known as the “Chief Architect of the Constitution.”  Listen to what he has to say on this subject:

 

We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it.  We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

 

Our Founding Fathers didn’t do things haphazardly.  There was too much riding on the outcome, including their liberty and their very lives, as well as the lives of their families.  It was no accident that this phrase appeared in the very first sentence of the Declaration.  With it, they revealed to the world and to all posterity their justification for establishing a new government.  By extension, it must also have been the implied basis for that government.  It wasn’t merely the foundation or even the cornerstone, but the very bedrock upon which this new nation was to be built.  We were to be “a Nation of Laws.”  And they told us immediately which laws and, more importantly, whose laws those were to be.

 

But what exactly were they talking about?  John Locke, whom it is entirely evident our Founding Fathers had studied, made the following fitting observations in the second of his Two Treatises of Government, published in 1698.  He said it was “reason and common equity” (sec. 8).

 

And upon this is grounded the great Law of Nature, Who so sheddeth Man’s Blood, by Man shall his Blood be shed.  And Cain was so fully convinced, that every one had a Right to destroy such a Criminal, that after the Murder of his Brother, he cries out, Every one that findeth me, shall slay me; so plain was it writ in the Hearts of all Mankind.  (Sec. 11).

 

Thus the Law of Nature stands as an Eternal Rule to all Men, Legislators as well as others.  The Rules that they make for other Mens (sic) Actions, must, as well as their own and other Mens (sic) Actions, be conformable to the Law of Nature, i.e. to the will of God, of which that is a Declaration, and the fundamental Law of Nature being the preservation of Mankind, no Humane (human) Sanction can be good, or valid against it.  (Sec. 135).

 

For the Law of Nature being unwritten, and so no where to be found but in the minds of Men...”  (Sec. 136).

 

Nor is Locke the sole voice to promulgate these thoughts.  The following are a few thoughts on what Rene Descartes had to say on the matter:

 

God has established the laws of nature just as a king establishes the laws of his kingdom.  And there is none of them which we cannot understand if we apply our minds to consider it, for they are innate in our minds, just as a king would stamp his laws in the hearts of his subjects if he had the power to do so . . . They are eternal and immutable because God is always the same. 

 

Even further back in history, Marcus Tullius Cicero weighs in:

 

True law is right reason conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal . . . This law cannot be contradicted by any other law, and is not liable either to derogation or abrogation.  Neither the senate nor the people can give us any dispensation for not obeying this universal law of justice . . . It is not one thing at Rome, and another at Athens; one thing today, and another tomorrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must forever reign, eternal and imperishable . . . God himself is its author, its promulgator, its enforcer, and he who does not obey it flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man.

 

This line of thought has survived down to modern times.  One of our most respected Supreme Court justices, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 1841 - 1935, held the now quaint notion that “. . . the fact that crimes are also generally sins . . .” (The Common Law, Lecture III).

 

Though these men do not state it as such, a reasonable conclusion might be that they were speaking of right and wrong, a moral conscience, and deference to our Creator.  Natural law is immutable (unchanging) and timeless.  Mere mortals can neither create nor destroy this law.  It exists whether or not we choose to abide by it, or whether or not we even choose to acknowledge it.  We are limited to creating our statute law, public policy if you will, and that policy can lie within the Laws of Nature or outside the Laws of Nature.  Our Founders ordained that we would operate within the Laws of Nature because they understood the nature of man and because they knew of the evil that befell them when man took it upon himself to establish “law” and proceed to manipulate it to his personal advantage.  Our Founders freely acknowledged a Creator who not only endowed us with certain unalienable rights, but also established the immutable natural law.

 

   

 

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