Natural Right

But, if you exert the means of defence which God and nature have given you, the time will soon arrive when every man shall sit under his own vine and under his own fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

–Journals of the Continental Congress, An Address Of The Congress To The Inhabitants Of The United States Of America, May 8th, 1778.

The First Law of Nature:

That every man, ought to endeavor Peace, as farre as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre.

[Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Penguin Books (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: 1986). First published in 1651.]

_____

…This was the fate of a race of Kings, bigotted to the greatest degree to the doctrines of slavery and regardless of the natural, inherent, divinely hereditary and indefeasible rights of their subjects.–At the revolution, the British constitution was again restor’d to its original principles, declared in the bill of rights; which was afterwards pass’d into a law, and stands as a bulwark to the natural rights of subjects. “To vindicate these rights, says Mr. Blackstone, when actually violated or attack’d, the subjects of England are entitled first to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law–next to the right of petitioning the King and parliament for redress of grievances–and lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence.” These he calls “auxiliary subordinate rights, which serve principally as barriers to protect and maintain inviolate the three great and primary rights of personal security, personal liberty and private property”: And that of having arms for their defence he tells us is “a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.”–How little do those persons attend to the rights of the constitution, if they know anything about them, who find fault with a late vote of this town, calling upon the inhabitants to provide themselves with arms for their defence at any time; but more especially, when they had reason to fear, there would be a necessity of the means of self preservation against the violence of oppression….

–Samuel Adams, Boston Gazette, 27 Feb. 1769.

_____

And a very prominent American had this to state in an early court case:

The laws of nature are the laws of God, whose authority can be superseded by no power on earth.

[George Mason, 1772 in Robin v. Hardaway, General Court of Virginia.]

_____

And here is the document that set brush fires in people’s minds concerning liberty and rights;

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. . . .

. . . When men enter into society, it is by voluntary consent; and they have a right to demand and insist upon the performance of such conditions and previous limitations as form an equitable original compact.

Every natural right not expressly given up, or, from the nature of a social compact, necessarily ceded, remains. . .

. . . “Just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty,” in matters spiritual and temporal, is a thing that all men are clearly entitled to by the eternal and immutable laws of God and nature, [418] as well as by the law of nations and all well-grounded municipal laws, which must have their foundation in the former. . . .

[419] 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. . . .

. . . 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 defence 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.

[The Rights of the Colonists by Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin. The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting. November 20, 1772. And Benjamin Franklin’s Preface to the English Edition and Editor’s Notes and Comments.]

_____

Mr. Henry for it. Says that a preparation for Warr is Necessary to obtain peace–That America is not Now in a State of peace–That all the Bulwarks, of Our Safety, of Our Constitn. are thrown down, That We are Now in a State of Nature–That We ought to ask Ourselves the Question should the planns of Nonim [portatio] n & Nonexp [oratio] n fail of success–in that Case Arms are Necessary, & if then, it is Necessary Now. Arms are a Resource to which We shall be forced, a Resource afforded Us by God & Nature, & why in the Name of both are We to hesitate providing them Now whilst in Our power.

[Silas Deane’s Diary, (Oct. 3, 1774). Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 1 AUGUST 1774 – AUGUST 1775.] (Presumably referring to Patrick Henry).

_____

This gentleman then gives a very clear explanation of why our Natural right is to be preserved:

        “Self-preservation is the first principle of our nature. When our lives and properties are at stake, it would be foolish and unnatural to refrain from such measures as might preserve them because they would be detrimental to others. . . . . . that the united strength of the several members might give stability and security to the whole body, and each respective member; so that one part cannot encroach upon another without becoming a common enemy, and eventually endangering the safety and happiness of all the other parts.”

[Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton – “A FULL VINDICATION.”, Dec. 15, 1774, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 1.]

_____

Then Mr. Madison explains upon what basis we departed from the old confederation and moved towards the new constitution:

   …Two questions of a very delicate nature present themselves on this occasion: 1. On what principle the Confederation, which stands in the solemn form of a compact among the States, can be superseded without the unanimous consent of the parties to it? 2. What relation is to subsist between the nine or more States ratifying the Constitution, and the remaining few who do not become parties to it?

    The first question is answered at once by recurring to the absolute necessity of the case; to the great principle of self-preservation; to the transcendent law of nature and of nature’s God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed. Perhaps, also, an answer may be found without searching beyond the principles of the compact itself. It has been heretofore noted among the defects of the Confederation, that in many of the States it had received no higher sanction than a mere legislative ratification. The principle of reciprocality seems to require that its obligation on the other States should be reduced to the same standard. A compact between independent sovereigns, founded on ordinary acts of legislative authority, can pretend to no higher validity than a league or treaty between the parties. It is an established doctrine on the subject of treaties, that all the articles are mutually conditions of each other; that a breach of any one article is a breach of the whole treaty; and that a breach, committed by either of the parties, absolves the others, and authorizes them, if they please, to pronounce the compact violated and void. Should it unhappily be necessary to appeal to these delicate truths for a justification for dispensing with the consent of particular States to a dissolution of the federal pact, will not the complaining parties find it a difficult task to answer the multiplied and important infractions with which they may be confronted? The time has been when it was incumbent on us all to veil the ideas which this paragraph exhibits. The scene is now changed, and with it the part which the same motives dictate.

    The second question is not less delicate; and the flattering prospect of its being merely hypothetical forbids an overcurious discussion of it. It is one of those cases which must be left to provide for itself. In general, it may be observed, that although no political relation can subsist between the assenting and dissenting States, yet the moral relations will remain uncancelled. The claims of justice, both on one side and on the other, will be in force, and must be fulfilled; the rights of humanity must in all cases be duly and mutually respected; whilst considerations of a common interest, and, above all, the remembrance of the endearing scenes which are past, and the anticipation of a speedy triumph over the obstacles to reunion, will, it is hoped, not urge in vain moderation on one side, and prudence on the other.

    PUBLIUS

   [James Madison, Federalist No. 43]

_____

And of course the following surely needs no introduction:

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

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.

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 to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…

[Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.]

_____

Self defence is a primary law of nature, which no subsequent law of society can abolish; this primæval principle, the immediate gift of the Creator, obliges every one to remonstrate against the strides of ambition, and a wanton lust of domination, and to resist the first approaches of tyranny, which at this day threaten to sweep away the rights for which the brave sons of America have fought with an heroism scarcely paralleled even in ancient republicks….

[Elbridge Gerry, Observations On the new Constitution, and on the Federal and State Conventions. By a Columbian Patriot. Sic transit gloria Americana. Boston: 1788.]

_____

The following is from one of the first Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and also a man very instrumental in the adoption of the new constitution:

   Unless the people are considered in these two views, we shall never be able to understand the principle on which this system was constructed. I view the states as made for the people, as well as by them, and not the people as made for the states; the people, therefore, have a right, whilst enjoying the undeniable powers of society, to form either a general government, or state governments, in what manner they please, or to accommodate them to one another, and by this means preserve them all. This, I say, is the inherent and unalienable right of the people; and as an illustration of it, I beg to read a few words from the Declaration of Independence, made by the representatives of the United States, and recognized by the whole Union.

   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, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such forms, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

   This is the broad basis on which our independence was placed: on the same certain and solid foundation this system is erected….

[James Wilson, Dec. 4, 1787. The debates in the Several State Conventions. [Elliot’s Debates, Volume 2] (Mr. Wilson signed the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and later a U.S. Supreme Court Justice).]

    I here close my examination into those natural rights, which, in my humble opinion, it is the business of civil government to protect, and not to subvert, and the exercise of which it is the duty of civil government to enlarge, and not to restrain. I go farther; and now proceed to show, that in peculiar instances, in which those rights can receive neither protection nor reparation from civil government, they are, notwithstanding its institution, entitled still to that defence, and to those methods of recovery, which are justified and demanded in a state of nature. 

    The defence of one’s self, justly called the primary law of nature, is not, nor can it be abrogated by any regulation of municipal law. This principle of defence is not confined merely to the person; it extends to the liberty and the property of a man: it is not confined merely to his own person; it extends to the persons of all those, to whom he bears a peculiar relation — of his wife, of his parent, of his child, of his master, of his servant: nay, it extends to the person of every one, who is in danger; perhaps, to the liberty of every one, whose liberty is unjustly and forcibly attacked. It becomes humanity as well as justice.

[James Wilson, from a series of lectures given between 1790 and 1792, ‘Wilson, Of the Natural Rights of Individuals’, in 2 The Works of James Wilson 335 (J.D. Andrews ed. 1896).]

_____

The following gentleman should need little in the way of introduction:

The right of self defense is the first law of nature; in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest possible limits…and [when] the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.

–St. George Tucker, Blackstone’s Commentaries, U.S. District Court Judge, July 10, 1752 – Nov. 10, 1827. (Mr. Tucker was a Lawyer and Professor of law at the College of William and Mary. He was appointed one of the committee to revise the laws of Virginia, and he served with James Madison and Edmund Randolph as Virginia commissioners to the Annapolis Convention. In 1803 Tucker became a judge of the highest court in Virginia. In 1813 he was appointed by President James Madison to be the United States district judge for Virginia. Tucker also, as District Court judge, sat with Chief Justice John Marshall on the U.S. Circuit Court in Richmond.)

_____

This distinguished gentleman provides the perfect explanation of why We The People secured our right:

   From among the rights retained by our policy, we have selected those of self defence or bearing arms, of conscience, and of free inquiry, for two purposes; one, to shew the vast superiority of our policy, in being able to keep natural rights necessary for liberty and happiness, out of the hands of governments; the other, to shew that this ability is the effect of its principles, and beyond the reach of Mr. Adams’s system, or of any other, unable to reserve to the peopleand to withhold from governments, a variety of rights.

— John Taylor, Revolutionary Soldier and U.S. Senator, (1792 – 94, 1803, 1822 – 24).

[An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States: Section the Sixth; THE GOOD MORAL PRINCIPLES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES, (1814).]

_____

Then Mr. Madison provides the entire reason for our Revolution:

   “Let it be remembered, finally, that it has ever been the pride and boast of America, that the rights for which she contended, were the rights of human nature. By the blessings of the author of these rights, on the means exerted for their defence, they have prevailed against all opposition and form the basis of thirteen independent states. No instance has heretofore occurred, nor can any instance be expected hereafter to occur, in which the unadulterated forms of republican government can pretend to so fair an opportunity of justifying themselves by their fruits. In this view, the citizens of the United States are responsible for the greatest trust ever confided to a political society. If justice, good faith, honor, gratitude and all the other qualities which ennoble the character of a nation and fulfill the ends of government be the fruits of our establishments, the cause of liberty will acquire a dignity and lustre, which it has never yet enjoyed, and an example will be set, which cannot but have the most favourable influence on the rights on Mankind. If on the other side, our governments should be unfortunately blotted with the reverse of these cardinal and essential virtues, the great cause which we have engaged to vindicate, will be dishonored and betrayed; the last and fairest experiment in favor of the rights of human nature will be turned against them; and their patrons and friends exposed to be insulted and silenced by the votaries of tyranny and usurpation.”

“By order of the United States in Congress assembled.”

– James Madison, Address to the States, 1783.

[The Debates In The Several State Conventions, On The Adoption Of The FEDERAL CONSTITUTION AS RECOMMENDED BY THE GENERAL CONVENTION AT PHILADELPHIA IN 1787. TOGETHER WITH THE JOURNAL OF THE FEDERAL CONVENTION, LUTHER MARTIN’S LETTER, YATES’ MINUTES, CONGRESSIONAL OPINIONS, VIRGINIA & KENTUCKY RESOLUTIONS OF ’98-’99, AND OTHER ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION. IN FOUR VOLUMES–VOLUME I. SECOND EDITION, WITH CONSIDERABLE ADDITIONS. COLLECTED AND REVISED FROM CONTEMPORARY PUBLICATIONS, BY JONATHAN ELLIOT. PUBLISHED UNDER THE SANCTION OF CONGRESS. Washington: PRINTED BY AND FOR THE EDITOR, ON THE PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE. 1836. Pg. 131]

And again:

    “It is a fortunate thing that the objection to the Government has been made on the ground I stated; because it will be practicable, on that ground, to obviate the objection, so far as to satisfy the public mind that their liberties will be perpetual, and this without endangering any part of the Constitution, which is considered as essential to the existence of the Government by those who promoted its adoption….”

    “In some instances they assert those rights which are exercised by the people in forming and establishing a plan of Government. In other instances, they specify those rights which are retained when particular powers are given up to be exercised by the Legislature. In other instances, they specify positive rights, which may seem to result from the nature of the compact. Trial by jury cannot be considered as a natural right, but a right resulting from a social compact which regulates the action of the community, but is as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature.”

[James Madison, June 8, 1789 House of Representatives, Amendments to the Constitution 8 June, 21 July, 13, 18–19 Aug. 1789 Annals 1:424–50, 661–65, 707–17, 757–59, 766.]

_____