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Monday, February 25, 2013

Natural Law and the American Creed

An earlier post excerpted Brian Vanyo's article on the origins of the American creed.  He has a new piece on the creed's meaning:
In the very first sentence of the Declaration of Independence, our founders wrote that the American people were breaking from British rule to live by the tenets of Natural Law — “to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and coequal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them.” To understand the meaning of our creed, we must come to know Natural Law.
Natural Law philosophy, which was first developed over 2,000 years ago, is the idea that universal laws govern all human interactions and that these laws, or truths, are discoverable by human reason. Aristotle wrote in Rhetoric (ca. 350 BC), “Universal law is the Law of Nature. For there really is, as everyone to some extent divines, a natural justice and injustice that is binding on all men, even on those who have no association or covenant with each other.”

Government is therefore bound to respect the people’s life, liberty, and property, because, as Alexander Hamilton explained, the universal Law of Nature is always and everywhere supreme:
Good and wise men, in all ages ... have supposed that the Deity ... has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is, indispensably, obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever.
This is what is called the Law of Nature, “which, being coeval with mankind and dictated by God Himself, is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid, derive all their authority, mediately, or immediately, from this original.” Blackstone.
Upon this law, depend the natural rights of mankind.
This is the meaning of our creed. We are a free people who joined in society to live by the principles of Natural Law — principles that became the purpose for our union, the cause for our independence, and the foundation for our government. These principles, of course, were proclaimed with conviction in our Declaration of Independence, which Thomas Jefferson later regarded as the “Declaratory Charter of our rights and the rights of man.”