DPR_7 Constitutional Studies 3: The Natural Rights of Man

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Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams

The Declaration of Independence declares that every man is endowed with certain unalienable rights, that these right are granted of God. This will be the topic of today’s Constitutional Studies.

Among all of the courageous colonists who risked so much to give us the gift of freedom, Sam Adams I think, is my favorite. While he was organizing the Sons of Liberty, most in the Continental Congress were worried about offending the King. When he was throwing tea in Boston Harbor, many were shrinking from the cause. Sam understood that every man, woman and child is born with rights, natural rights, God-given rights, unalienable rights.

Our liberty documents today will be The Rights of the Colonists by Samuel Adams, Property by James Madison and the Holy Bible by God himself.

The The Rights of the Colonists is a report from the Committee of Correspondence to a Boston Town Meeting. The amazing thing is that it was written in 1772, some four years before the Declaration was Written, some four years before the colonists finally stood with resolve to claim their freedom and independence. It is little wonder that Sam Adams is rightly referred to as the Father of the American Revolution. This document clearly illustrates principles that every American must understand. I lays out the relationship between God and man and the balance between man and government that must be maintained. It is a blessing that he left this behind for us. It is a tragedy that we, for the most part, have utterly ignored this essential message.

Mr. Adams divided this document into three logical sections. Let us have a look at the first.

Section 1: Natural Rights of the Colonists as Men.

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. –Samuel Adams

Most of us, as Americans, believe that we are familiar and knowledgeable with respect to the rights of life, liberty and property. I once felt the same. Today, I feel differently.

Life, for example, is much more than just the right to be alive. There is a quality of life that all men have a right to enjoy. This right is eternally linked to the rights of liberty and property. Being allowed to live but having no right to liberty and property does, in fact, deprive man of live. Life is much more than a state or condition, it is a quality, an opportunity, and a joy that cannot be full in the absence of liberty and property.

Looking now to liberty, it is clear that most Americans think themselves to be free. According to the definitions of freedom and that we will discuss, we will come to realize we are in fact, in the bondage of tyrants. I guess a slave thinks himself to be free so long as he is never more restricted than the state of restriction he has come to accept. Before you proceed, let that soak in.

It is with regard to property, that I believe us to be most confused. The common understanding of property includes our homes, our money, our cars, our lands. According to James Madison, this is simply not so. In a paper entitled property, Madison states,

This term in its particular application means “that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.” –James Madison

Madison is clear in the position that the right of property includes an absolute and exclusive dominion. A dominion that excludes all other persons.

Madison continues,

In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage. –James Madison

When we layer this definition upon the first part of Madison’s definition, we see that every man has an absolute right to exercise dominion over all of his property, which includes everything to which a man may attach a value.

When we begin to consider the things to which we attach a value, we soon see that property is much wider and broader and more extensive than what we had previously imagined. In addition to the physical things we can own and hold, Madison relates a few other examples of property,

In the latter sense, a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.

He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them.

He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.

He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them. –James Madison

We quickly see that property includes many things that we had not previously considered. We see that without the natural right of property and the proper protection of these rights, a fullness of live and the blessings of liberty cannot be enjoyed.

Considering the massive expanse of property and the attached exclusive dominion, one must rightly ask, are there limits, and if so, what are they? Madison who has provided us with so may answers, does not disappoint. Remember he said,

In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage. –James Madison

What does it mean to “leave to every one else the like advantage”. The best answer to this question is found in the book of Genesis, chapter 1, verse 26. Here we that God created man in his own likeness and image. We also see that God gave man “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth”.

Dominion over all the earth. This is very similar to the broad and expansive dominion of which Madison spoke. One must wonder if it was this verse the inspired him. The logical question follows, what sort of dominion is man authorized to exercise? The answer is given, in the likeness and image of God. God has absolute dominion but he does not force a man to do that which is against his will. God does no harm. Therefore, we may exercise exclusive dominion, however, our rights end when the exercise of them removes the same rights from another person. In short, do no harm.

Now, we return to the Adams quote. He states that we have the right of Life, Liberty and Property, “together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can“. Clearly, this introduced the right of self defense. The important part is found in the last words, “in the best manner they can”. Notice that Adams did no say, “in the best manner they can, provided that the government approves”. It simply leaves the matter of self defense in the hands of the individual.

All positive and civil laws should conform, as far as possible, to the law of natural reason and equity… 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, as well as by the law of nations and all well-grounded municipal laws, which must have their foundation in the former. —Samuel Adams

While living in the state of Washington, my family became targeted by a violent gang. There were a number of attacks which caused us to defend yourselves. These criminals did, in fact, strip my family of out rights of Life, Liberty and Property. The most egregious violation of our rights, however, came from government. I did not have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. But, I had a natural right to defend myself. A .38 snub found its way into my jacket pocket and remained there until we left the state for good. The corrupt laws of the state of Washington stripped me of my right to self defense and would have condemned me as a criminal had I been caught. Worst of all, it reduced law enforcement, who was swarm to protect me, to the same low level, in my eyes, as the criminal gang.

Laws are only proper and Constitutional if and when they do not attempt to remove or limit natural rights. Examples of laws that do remove or restrict natural rights include, (a) the requirement to have a permit to carry a firearm, (b) the requirement for churches to register with and be in subjection to the states, (c) the government practice of taking from the people without the consent of the people, and redistributing these funds in the form of welfare, health care, abortions, subsidized housing, refugee resettlement, etc., (d) the practice of requiring a person to obtain a business license.

You see, when they take your physical property for any reason not properly delegated, it is theft. When they take your natural rights, including all of the properties Madison defined, for any reason, it is always theft.

The other two sections of the Adams paper discuss the The Rights of the Colonists as Christians and the The Rights of the Colonists as Subjects. As is usual, we barley scratch the surface of these important liberty documents. As usual, I leave it to you to complete this course of study and become a better and more informed defender of truth and liberty.


The Rights of the Colonists

James Madison, Property

The Holy Bible (King James Version)