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Thursday, July 23, 2020

Hamilton on Natural Rights

Tony Williams at RealClearPublicAffairs:
After serving a brief time in Congress, Hamilton became an attorney in New York. His dedication to natural-law justice prompted his courageous defense of the rights of unpopular Tories who had had their property confiscated under New York law. He believed that the laws violated equal justice, the rights of minorities, and the Peace Treaty of 1783. In January 1784, he wrote "Letter from Phocion," stating that a natural-rights republic “holds the rights of every individual sacred” and “punishes no man without regular trial.” Most famously, he represented a widow in Rutgers v. Waddington, making a case for judicial review when state laws conflicted with national ones, individual rights, and natural law.

During the 1780s, Hamilton joined the antislavery New York Manumission Society. He believed that slavery was a moral evil and a contradiction of any natural-rights regime. During the war, he had backed friend John Lauren’s plan to emancipate slaves in South Carolina if the slaves would bear arms for the patriot cause. Ultimately, though, abolition was not Hamilton’s main cause. He adopted a longer view, one devoted to building a well-governed republic that protected the inalienable rights of all.