Jefferson's Forgotten Theistic Basis for Natural Rights
- On this Page:
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Laws of Nature and Nature's God
- 3. The Jeffersonian Rights
- 4. Devolutions in Rights
- (Click the images for a lightbox slideshow)
In Philosophy of Law, Constitutional Rights derive from Natural Rights. Jefferson'a rational choice of natural rights was based on Locke's theory of natural law, which is not so self evident to the naive. Nonetheless that choice is legally significant to the U.S. Federal and State Supreme Courts, which only have s a Constitutional Right to interpret the Founding Father's intent. Thus: (a) Jefferson wrote the natural rights, (b) constitutional rights derive from them, and (c) therefore Locke's theory of natural law is a strong influence of how natural rights should be upheld in the USA. Yet when discussing issues of: (a) right to life, such as abortion; or (b) right to liberty, such as the freedom to murder in self defense without punishment; or (c) right to pursue happiness eternally by acting for the Greater good, which should be the only motive for civil disobedience, Locke's actual intent in all three of the natural rights is all too often totally ignored
Created: August 2015 Modified: March 19, 2021 8th Revision
Jefferson's intent, when declaring independence from the British, was that secular law derive authority from a Lockean social contract granting natural rights. In law, rights are perhaps the most beautiful invention, because they are 'positive,' enabling people to achieve good in society, in contrast with the 'negative' restrictions imposed by most other law.
Jefferson agreed with the other founders that his choice of natural rights were "self-evident" because he saw them as rational deductions, made from scientific and theological premises on the "laws of Nature and of Nature's God" (as clearly stated in the Declaration of Independence). The other founders simply felt Jefferson's rights were self-evident from intuitive common sense.
Atheistic bias has since led to eradication of Jefferson's original rationale for deriving secular law from natural rights from public knowledge. Now, Constitutional Rights are ENTIRELY held to be "self-evident" from conflicting intuitions, amidst battles for political control of their interpretation in the reversing tides of majority passions.
This page explains how rights are clearly NOT self-evident from intuition alone. It covers what limited knowledge people do have of the theories behind Jefferson's intent without knowing the actual theory, because its premise of a benign divinity has prohibited its teaching in public schools. It introduces Jefferson's actual deductions and purpose in deriving secular law from natural rights. It describes how legal positivism took over, but cannot by itself provide moral solutions to problems that the Founders could not have anticipated. The appendices summarize some unequivocal resolutions to current major debates, deduced from Jefferson's Lockean rationale.
Since first writing on this topic from conversations with President Obama (who taught Constitutional Law), several Supreme Court justices and a number of professors who attempt not to be prejudiced by political or religious bias have reviewed and approved this page's thesis, which I've revised six times now in response to questions. Some professors also expressed some profound sorrow that the USA is overall still not ready to consider anything beyond 'self-evident rights' in such neutral manners as themselves. I've come to appreciate that sentiment from the thousands of asinine remarks sent to me on this topic, but remain hopeful some others will find this search for truth helpful in their own lives.
In its 1776 Declaration of Independence, the USA declared Britain had violated the primary natural rights of life and liberty that all equally deserve, justifying the first bloody war in the USA's turbulent history. Jefferson's natural rights undeniably remain the source of authority on which the USA justifies its right to rule itself. Refusing to acknowledge the reasoning which leads to the rights we have is one cause of the recent increasing mob violence on both sides of the political divide, if not the source of the conflict in the first place.
Self-Evident by Intuition, Not - Jefferson accepted rights to "Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness" as self evident because they are rational deductions, from premises he accepted, on the "laws of nature and nature's God" to which he devoutly referred in the Declaration of Independence. But now most people think rights are undeniably self evident by intuition.
However, even the rights themselves aren't intuitively obvious. Other nations think other rights are self evident. For example, 'liberty, equality, and fraternity' are the natural rights in France. Thus intuition by itself is not enough to define what the rights themselves should be, let alone how to apply them. One would think that should be obvious, but the 'self evident rights' are taught to schoolchildren at such an early age, assumptions based on intuitive beliefs have become ingrained as indubitable in national debate.
Much of the USA's early growth might be due to Jefferson's wise choice of natural rights from the writings of one of the men he admired most, John Locke. Jefferson admired the genius of the man so much, Locke's oil portrait hung in a place of honor in Jefferson's Monticello home, opposite the staircase. Other founders, including Thomas Paine. John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, felt that Jefferson's deductions from Locke were obvious from common sense - but like many products of genius, the ideas are only obvious after a genius points it out.
- Note: on Thomas Paine - Quite a few people have asked about Paine's more widely known philosophical notions than Jefferson's. Paine admired a rather petulant Scotsman called Thomas Reid, who in particular derided the thinking of the empirical skeptic David Hume as total garbage. Some of Reid's own skepticism was valid, as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy page on Reid presents in a far better manner than Reid himself. Reid also had some fundamental problems with an observation called 'Hume's guillotine,' but as explained in the section on legal positivism below, Hume's guillotine is now fundamental to the current practice of law. Of pertinence to that later discussion is Reid's metaphysical position, a refutation of Hume's mind/body distinction now called naive realism. This position holds that everything is obviously as it appears, and all ideas should be simply evaluated by common sense without any necessity for further consideration of the difference between knowledge and belief. That remains the most widely known notion of the Founder's beliefs, frequently misconstrued as Jefferson's also. Paine's popular proposal for war taxes, cleverly called Common Sense to associate it with Reid and lend it more credibility, also borrowed some of Hume's criticisms of public debt without acknowledging Hume. Regarding Reid's naive realism, its simplicity made it quite popular until the 20th century, but it ran into some very basic problems, such as how to interpret sense perceptions when one sees optical illusions. With regard to common sense as a method of understanding, again: common sense leads people to have different beliefs about the observable world, so reality just cannot be known merely by common sense alone. For these reasons, Reid's 'common-sense realism' was renamed 'naive realism' at the turn of the 20th century.
The Benefits of the Rationale - None of the founders contested the obvious benefits of the rights Jefferson proposed. But others had not read Locke. Hence there was a great deal of debate as to how to frame Jeffersonian rights, as shown in this early draft of the Declaration of Independence. Edits led to obscuring Jefferson's intent, for example, by changing "we hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable" to "we hold these truths to be self evident." Jefferson had hoped that advances in education would enable more people to understand that the truths are self evident as rational deductions, rather than intuitions. But that hasn't happened.
The original rationale for Jeffersonian natural rights is a framework of scientific, metaphysical, legal, political, and spiritual notions concerning the purpose of justice, which have evolved substantially over two thousand years under a cross-disciplinary umbrella known as Natural Law. Jefferson's rationale provides unequivocal resolutions to heavily contested issues in the modern world. If all people actually learned the rationale, then only one half of the social divide would be basing its opinions purely on intuitive opinions. That could only be an improvement over the current combative positions of the political parties.
The Void in Public Knowledge - Virtually all U.S. citizens don't know of Jefferson's reasoning, because it is theistic, and therefore shunned in the modern public-school system. Professionals in some fields do know of the natural law producing Jeffersonian natural rights for different reasons:
- Politicians often advocate how abrogation of those natural rights undermines the moral authority of this or other nations. But politicians but don't generally study the metaphysical basis for their definition in the USA.
- Attorneys learn the pragmatic applications of natural law from Locke's Treatise on Government (London, 1689), but do not study their metaphysical basis because it is theistic.
- Psychologists, Educationalists and AI Engineers know of Locke's tabula rasa model for the development of intelligence, but do not know of the model as the Augustinian premise whence Jefferson derived natural rights and Constitutional Law.
- Philosophers know of Natural Law theories behind, for example, Plato's social contract (from The Republic Book II, Athens, ~380BC) and Cicero's derivation of secular law from observations of the human state of nature, in De Legibus (Rome, 1st century BC). But philosophers now only study the secular writings of Locke.
- Ancient Historians know of natural law from Hesiod's Works and Days (Athens, 6th century BC). It describes a natural decline of morality from the peaceful Golden Age, through the chaotic Bronze Age, to the current violent Iron Age, caused by population growth increasing pressure on scarcer resources. Plato attempted to define the first social contract in a new, natural order to restore the peace of the Golden Age. In this natural order, division of labor allows the greater benefits of civilization to flourish, wherein government is one labor to which some obligate themselves for the betterment of all. But historians do not study philosophy.
- Theologists study the writings of Aquinas, who in Summa Theologiae (Rome, 1485) posited that natural law provides promulgation of authority from the divine into Constitutional Law, and likewise thence into common law. But theologists do not study Locke because he is considered an empirical philosopher, not a theologist.
Locke's theistic metaphysics are in his massive Essay Concerning Human Understanding (London, 1690), triple the length of both his Treatises on Government put together. From that Jefferson formulated rational deductions as to what rights are best for a Christian democratic republic. While a number of Locke's other metaphysical propositions have been superseded by new scientific and epistemological work, his rationalization for natural rights persists as an astoundingly untarnished deduction from his premises, even after over three centuries of academic criticism.
2. Laws of Nature and Nature's God
Because Jefferson's primary source book isn't taught in USA's schools, virtually all Americans think the Laws of Nature and Nature's God, in the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence, doesn't refer to anything specific. In fact, the phrase specifically refers to Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Chapter 9, 'On Perception'. Locke there explains the underpinning for his laws of nature, which became the basis of the technical 'state of nature' in Locke's better known Treatise on Government.
Locke was the first Western empiricist to advocate the tabula rasa model of child development, which holds we are born able to form ideas, but cannot distinguish between our own ideas, internal sensations, and external perceptions. While there's alternatives to the tabula rasa theory, it remains a reasonable scientific model for the laws of nature in which we exist, still applied to better the lives of all in modern ideas of early education, psychotherapy, and artificial intelligence (most notably by Freud and Piaget, as summarized in this Psychology WIKI page and Wikipedia article).
From the tabula rasa model, Locke infers a profound agreement with Augustine's Laws of God that all are born equal in the eyes of God for proper judgment in the afterlife, and that the primary goal of human law should be to enable personal salvation in every way possible (see Augustine's City of God, Rome, 420). Therein is the heart of the problem, because Augustine was a theologian, so the theistic conclusions he draws from this in Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Book II, Chapter 21, 'On Power' have fallen into an interdisciplinary void. This is not helped by the fact that Locke rather assumes everyone knows this Augustinian premise, so he only indirectly refers to it a number of times, rather than stating it explicitly in any one pace. But it remains rather undeniable, from his reasoning in his chapter on power, that this premise was the basis of his reasoning. For unlike Augustine, Locke does not infer that the church should govern, but instead constructs a social contract whereby secular law can provide social justice in a democracy, rather than start another Dark Ages like Augustine's own conclusions from that premise originally caused...For which we ourselves can only be profoundly grateful.
All are created equal - Thus, the Declaration of Independence states "All are created equal," and many now remark on the apparent ingenuity of Jefferson that the word created avoids many issues with obvious inequities. Most regard 'equal rights' as an attempt to preserve equality justly. Almost no one recognizes either the significance of the tabula rasa model, nor of the needs of a just and loving God to give humanity a fair chance at a pleasant afterlife. At most, people are puzzled by why Jefferson chose pursuit of happiness as a natural right rather than the right to property discussed in Locke's Treatises on Government, which is explained in the next section.
Much as many now ridicule even the existence of a God, such agnostic inclinations cannot invalidate deductions from this premise, because it is also impossible to disprove the existence of a just and loving God. It also remains undeniable that most of those founding the USA had faith and hope in the existence of such a God, making it unreasonable to remove that faith when considering the rationale under which this nation was framed.
3. The Jeffersonian Rights
Jefferson intended that secular law restrict human interference upon divine judgment, while progressively enhancing quality of life. The Declaration of Independence therefore defines 'the laws of nature and of nature's God' as a Lockean social contract whereby U.S. citizens grant the Government the right to impose taxes and restrictions, in exchange for honoring natural rights as inalienable ('equal for all'). Based on Locke's Augustinian premise that all are born equal in the eyes of God, that He may best judge us in the afterlife, Jefferson deduced the USA's three natural rights as follows:
- LIFE is the primary right, because God should decide when we die, not us, otherwise free will interferes with God's ability to provide salvation to all souls. The right to life includes rights to water, food, protection from heathens by national defense, and more recently, shelter and national health too.
- LIBERTY, the secondary right, enables unfettered choice between good and evil. Under this right we may also choose the pleasures of the natural world that best suits each of us. This right justifies a free market, under regulations to protect rights to life, freedom of religion, and ancillary rights which promote equal treatment under a just and loving God.
- PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS is an additional right because it enables all to act for the greater good. This unique right to the USA might account for its early success and growth. While we may choose which happinesses to pursue, the greatest happinesses arise from 'acting for the greater good,' yielding 'a more solid and permanent happiness' in heaven, if not before. This right justifies government sponsorship of education, libraries, museums, parks and recreation, public TV and radio, education, and scientific research. And most significantly, in the founder's time, the wealthy would choose to provide charitable support to unfortunates as necessary to earn the greatest happiness of all.
Jefferson described natural rights as sacred but not divine, because they derive authority fron God, but are only a human interpretation of 'Divine Law.' Authority promulgates to the secular definition of Constitutional Law, and thence to common law, as per Aquinas. The Right to Property is in Jefferson's view a civil right accorded to a person's station in society, leading to higher taxes for those who own more property. Hence property is not an inalienable natural right.
The extent of Locke's reasoning whence Jefferson drew these rights, in Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Book II, Chapter 21, 'On Power', is truly magnificent and filled with the language of our nation. For a primer on Locke's actual process of logical deduction, please see the first half of my blog Natural Rights, Gun Rights, and Legal Rights on LinkedIn.
4. Devolutions in Rights
WHEN THE BRUTAL CIVIL WAR FINALLY ENDED In 1865, the USA put 3.9 million prior slaves on the streets all at the same time, without much money, no education, and no other support. It was far more than traditional acts of charity could possibly alleviate. All of the lower class suffered from extreme poverty, famine, and disease. Unemployment rose dramatically. In 1873-1874, one in four laborers in New York were out of work. In 1876, national unemployment had reached 14%; many more were severely underemployed; wages overall had dropped 45%; and 18,000 American businesses failed, defaulting on debt equivalent to 100 billion in current dollars. The loan defaults continued after 1876, wiping out the majority of the nation's banks. Shortages of commodities put their prices up. The resulting Long Depression, with concurrent inflation, lasted 12 years.
A long departure of the faithful from Christian churches commenced. In the 1890s a fluttering of new religious ideals, marked by the Amish and Shaker communities, tried to resurrect Christian morality to Jeffersonian levels. But the horrifying machinery of war and endless deaths of the First World War, followed by the confused hedonism of the Prohibition Era, put atheistic cynicism on the rise.
Moral Decay - in the 1930s, a stock market collapse AGAIN completely overwhelmed the poor houses. Expectations of charitable support by the rich were replaced in Roosevelt's New Deal by 'entitlement programs.' By that time, predominantly atheistic attitudes on the virtues of hoarding wealth had taken over, leading to widespread reinterpretation of natural rights purely for worldly self gain, amidst escalating, hostile denials of the theistic framework by which the USA's natural rights were originally defined.
Profiteers have particularly enjoyed hacking away at the right to pursue happiness. Consider for example that private news media used to make most their income from classified ads, for which reason unbiased news reporting was to their advantage; but now all that revenue goes to Google and Facebook, from whom other nations such as Australia extract fees to be pay for local news (LA Times, 2/22/2021). A similar move in the USA would be hotly rejected by the stock market. Government sponsorship of public TV and media should have been able to fill the void and provide unbiased reporting under Jeffersonian principles, but even Public TV and radio has been stripped to barebones life support.
The Emergence of Legal Positivism - The resulting 'entitlements' from the 1930s are justified under Constitutional Rights by themselves. But without Jefferson's rationale, there's no way to converge on exactly what entitlements should be. Aside from the Supreme Court's opinions on interpreting Constitutional Rights by the Founders' intents, attorneys disregard promulgation of authority from natural rights as a method to resolve disputes, now implementing instead a method called 'legal positivism' (from John Austin and H.L.A. Hart). Three progressively complex perspectives on legal positivism follow:
- Legal positivism avoids any statement of what the purpose of law ought to be, rather than what it is, to avoid an ancient trap known as Hume's Guillotine. Around the time of USA's formation, Hume observed there's no way to determine the truth of statements about what people ought to do without invoking beliefs that could be justifiably dubious. Hume's 'guillotine' therefore 'slices off' all statements about what ought to be done, to avoid any possible doubt. Thus, legal positivists make no statement about what the purpose of law ought to be, instead simply saying what the law is.
- For a description of Hume's guillotine in formal logic, see the naturalistic fallacy in Principia Ethica (G.E. Moore, Cambridge, 1903), from which truth evaluation has been successfully extended to resolve moral disagreements within well-defined paradigms (such as Darwinism, or specific theologies), but not across different ethical systems.
- The moniker 'legal positivism' was invented in the last century to parallel Wittgenstein's ideas of 'logical positivism' in Tractatus Logico-philosophicus (Austria, 1921). The Tractatus starts with the premise "The world is made of facts" and concludes "Over that which we cannot speak, we must pass over in silence." In between, the Tractatus states what facts can say about themselves, in a perfectly circular argument. In the Tractatus' last sentence, aspects of reality that are factually indeterminate are so 'unspoken,' even their existence cannot be explicitly stated in words.
- Similarly, legal positivists hold that law is good for society. As to what the purpose of society should be, legal positivism passes over in silence. In between, just like the Tractatus, legal positivism states that its interpretation of law is right because it says so, in a perfectly circular argument (see this Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy page). As a consequence, attorneys can talk about law being right with total confidence, never mentioning what 'the purpose of law' should be besides upholding its own justice.
- Before legal positivism, much the same ideas were regarded as utilitarian pragmae on how to maximize happiness (per Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill). Utilitarianism set the stage for advancing new ideas on maximizing happiness by avoiding debates on what happiness actually is, in much the same way as legal positivism has resulted in enormous advances in legislation without needing to consider whether the legislation is actually a good idea.
- Legal positivism is based on a metaphysical position called 'legal realism.' The perspective is a considerable advance on Paine's naive realism, discussed in the introduction. Legal realism makes a distinction between properties of the observable world ('extrinsic properties') and internal states ('intrinsic properties'), wherein lies both the strength and weakness of the perspective.
- Very generally speaking, intrinsic states include beliefs, emotions, intents, and other mental states that are not directly observable. Intrinsic states also include beliefs about the observable world, so the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction is not straightforward.
- For example, 'weight' is directly observable, and therefore an extrinsic property; but 'mass' is more complicated. Scientific models state mass is fixed, and warps space at relativistic scales. It could equally be true that space is fixed and warps matter, but most science prefers the first perspective, because distortions of Euclidean geometries are easier for us to conceive ('string theories' and black-hole models may prefer the latter perspective). That is to say, mass may appear similar to the extrinsic, observable property of weight, but is an intrinsic property. The actual existence of 'mass' is unknowable, regardless how much application of its concept is useful as an intrinsic belief. (Even if only imaginary, mass still has intrinsic properties, similar to other imagined phenomena, such as Santa Claus.) For further discussion of the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction in formal logic, see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy page on the topic.
- Legal realism holds that legal judgments can only be of extrinsic properties, from which intrinsic properties can at most be inferred. Thus, when a person is held guilty or innocent, the judgment must be entirely based on the extrinsic, observable evidence which is pertinent to the case, rather than a judgment of the person in any way. The extrinsic evidence may include, for example, verbal statements about intrinsic states of a defendant, such as whether the defendant intended to do something or not. But the judgment is based on the verbal statements, not on the inferred intrinsic state. That is the strength of legal positivism...and it's so important, Lady Justice is portrayed as wearing a blindfold, holding the sword of justice while weighing the evidence on a scale.
- However, beliefs about what the purpose of law should be are intrinsic. Thus, legal realists must in parallel withhold beliefs about the purpose of law when making judgments, and cannot make judgments about law itself.
Society has regarded both legal positivism and utilitarianism as useful. Rule utilitarianism has enabled the conception of new laws that restrict liberty to a small extent, in exchange for far greater benefits overall. For example, all drivers can reach their destinations more quickly and safely when cars traveling in opposite directions are restricted to opposite sides of the road. And for common-law legislation, legal positivism upholds precedence with excellence.
If a case has no precedence, it ascends through the legal system to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has historically applied The Founding Fathers intent from the surviving evidence of it, such as The Federalist Papers. While the Supreme Court is generally very familiar with the Founders' intent, the amount that Jefferson's implementation of Lockean thoughts can be applied is very limited. For example, the Supreme court still holds, like everybody else, that natural rights are only self-evident by intuition.
In the last years of the Obama administration, I was working for Mr. Obama on gun control, during which I wrote Mr. Obama about how Jefferson thought of natural rights as self-evident by deduction from Lockean rationale. It was with some shock I learned that Mr. Obama, who had previously taught Constitutional Law himself, was unfamiliar with considering 'self evident' to mean 'obvious from rational deduction' rather than 'obvious from intuition.' For much that reason he had not previously read himself Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding. He was delighted by the discovery and gave me some excellent advice on how to continue this work for which I will always be grateful. However at that time, I was working for him on gun control, and did not follow up on the topic with his administration. I did not know how much social rejection there would be on Jefferson's lost intent, so I worked for him on 2nd-Amendment issues until he left office. Since that time I have been trying to find any educational institution that has taught about it, or who would teach about it. I found none. When I sent professors what I had written for President Obama, they unilaterally agreed that the evidence is rather undeniably irrefutable. However, they also said, the syllabi for philosophy, law, history, and other such subjects have been rather set in stone on topics surrounding the Founders intent at least since the 1960s by higher authorities who strongly object to introducing religious theories into the educational system. The most they want to permit is mention that Jefferson was religious, and that's about it. I am not in University, so I neither have access to those authorities, nor to the academic journals publishing their work. When I approached the main political parties, I was only told the theistic nature of Jefferson's thought makes it forbidden. So the knowledge remains in a void.
Meanwhile, with the continuing progress of science and society, unprecedented problems have proliferated. Such cases now include abortion and early birth, homosexuality and sex changes, sexual consent outside marriage, sexual and racial discrimination, reparations, huge indigenous populations of illegal immigrants, huge international corporations beyond fiscal or ethical control, an escalating inundation of increasingly lethal firearms in private hands, media bias, and climate change. All of these cases require an opinion on what the purpose of society should be, for which reason legal positivism can provide no answer. In absence of other guidance on new problems, the Supreme Court is ever more frequently forced to fall back on two recourses:
- Truth by Unified Consensus, called Human Rights as defined by the United Nations since its formation by the Roosevelts. However, the world overall has been unable to agree on what human rights are, beyond basic rights to water, food, and shelter. There's been attempts to abolish torture under human rights, but even the USA has remained unclear on what the definition of torture is since its permission of waterboarding in Guantanamo Bay. As such, human rights are really only helpful in defining treatment of illegal immigrants and those who break the law, who thus are not entitled to full legal protection by Constitutional Rights. On everything else, human rights theorists have been unable to produce an argument which the international community endorses.
- Truth by Majority Passion, as per Rousseau’s social contract. Rousseau held that people are noble savages who nobly strive for majority control with all the strength of passion their self-value dictates, but who savagely turn into political and social revolutionaries when the government does not concur with the majority's passions. Hence, to reduce violence, the Supreme Court simply applies Rousseau's theory and follows 'the majority opinion.' In absence of any other rationale, this does help keep the peace, but as we know from Germany's infatuation with Hitler, truth by consensus also can go terribly wrong.
Human rights and Rousseau are both purely secular, but have no moral backbone to them. The greater ideals of natural rights originally proposed by Jefferson are further eroded by each passing year as majority passions exert evermore force. The partisan divide has been widening for decades. As each party takes over majority control, and majority passions change, more and more decisions are flip flopping back and forth. It's now been a century since the prohibition of alcohol was reversed in the next Constitutional amendment, and flip flops have just increased in number since. As of this draft March 19th 2021, President Biden has signed 50 executive orders since taking office 60 days ago, almost all of which reverse Trump's decisions. Intuitive rejections of election results caused Trumpists to storm the capitol. The USA has higher COVID death rates than any other nation. Despite that, 47% of Trump voters plan to refuse vaccination (Rolling Stone, 3/14/2021).
There is no existent force in the nation to prevent worse discord. Soon, climate change is going to be killing more people than from worsening hurricanes alone. President Trump withdrew from the Paris Accord. President Biden rejoined it. What's to stop the same flip flopping until millions die from floods and heat?
Whatever the religious basis of Jefferson's ideas, it was his intent to create a progressive society based on Christian principles. The Lockean social contract described here is a complete empirical framework whence rationales can be derived for new problems in a far superior manner than by intuition alone. The Jeffersonian intent could provide a moral backbone that would end the conflicts in intuitions. So far, it seems the USA can't even acknowledge his intent's existence. Will anyone take Jefferson's intent seriously and take advantage of its unified rationale to solve problems? And who exactly has the authority to say a Founding Father's intent should not be considered in Supreme Court decisions merely because it is a Christian rationale? Exactly where did that come from? I've heard it often enough while sharing the idea. I can find no reason for it.
Those who are able to suspend judgment so far could try to object that Jefferson's rationale 'requires a belief in God.' Not everyone agrees that a God even exists at all, let alone a just and loving God. Not everyone agrees that there is an afterlife. Those who act for the greater good may suffer more than they deserve for their entire existence, whether or not there is an afterlife.
However, even without belief in its premises, the model could still provide better results than the chaos that current methods are causing. Jefferson did NOT intend to force people to believe in God in order for his rationale to work. And Jefferson did NOT intend that atheistic passions eradicate knowledge of the Lockean rationale for natural rights from the general public. Jefferson would have objected to replacing the hope in the Lockean social contract with the fear of the Hobbesian social contract, reframed for democratic appeal by Rousseau (further discussed in the following section).
As boldly pointed out in this article's title, the rights upon which the USA was founded ARE based on a Christian theory. It was JEFFERSON's social contract, not Rousseau's, which justified rebellion against the British and formation of this nation. The USA still only remains an independent nation under the justification of Jefferson's social contract. Each time the validity of Jefferson's rationale is obstructed, the USA loses more authority to rule itself. If the USA continues on its current path into hell, it will lose the ability to rule at all.
Application of Jeffersonian Rights
to Current Conflicts
Created: March 2021 Edited: June 13th 2021
Outside social security, National Defense is the single, largest component of USA's budget, costing every man, woman, and child in the USA >$4,000/year. U.S. military spending four times more than any other nation, and more than the next six nations combined, which could be rather a good indication there could be a reason to reduce the spending.
Jeffersonian natural law does sadly admit to the necessity for war. Locke's explanation in The Second Treatise on Government.
On this topic, Locke's thinking is derived from Hobbes, who in Leviathan started with the horrible fear we may all experience of being wrongfully persecuted. Hobbes called this a State of Nature that we cannot avoid, and without government, society collapses into a State of War. Hobbes said that we therefore can only survive as a species by entering into an imagined social contract with government, granting it the right to restrict our freedom in exchange for protecting ourselves from ourselves. And Hobbes deduced, as we cannot trust anyone to act on our own behalf more than anyone else, authority might as well be feudal, as long as the King fears God and the hierarchy of authority is well defined.
Locke agreed that we can fall into a state of war when the social contract is not honored. However, Locke felt that it is better to exist in hope rather than fear, and believed that people are capable of choosing to act for the greater good. Locke therefore felt that a democracy is superior to feudalism, and that Democratic nations have a right to defend themselves from heathen nations who would rather democracies be destroyed, and moreover a right to aggressively defend the rights of others in persecuted nations too. Jefferson's single greatest accomplishment might have been to provide a rational, under the rights he defined, not only for the USA to declare independence, but moreover, to be a democratic republic.
Our democratic republic only exists because we held that all equally deserve natural rights, justifying rebellion against the British. Killing others in war deprives others of the primary natural right to life. That can only be justified without contention if other nations threaten the natural rights of US citizens. Beyond that, the USA should only join nations that are equally concerned about the deprivation of natural rights by other governments, under control of international leagues such as the United Nations and European Union. The USA otherwise has no independent authority to declare war on other nations, so there is no logical rationale, from Jeffersonian rights, for the USA to spend more on self defense than all other nations. Perhaps ironically, Thomas Paine also proposed that the USA should only spend as much on war as the British in his conclusion of Common Sense. If the USA accorded other governments with the same respect it accords itself, there would be no need for greater spending, either.
From the perspective of the natural law underpinning Jefferson's thought, there can be no reasonable doubt that Jefferson supported right to life, rather than right to choice, as per the Declaration of Independence's first phrase, In the Course of Human Events....
To understand the choice of wording in Jefferson's preamble, one only needs to read the same works which Jefferson read himself. For if he had read Locke, he must also have read the eminent classics of his day, such as Plato's Republic and Cicero's De Legibus, (Rome, ca. 70BC). In the current day, Plato is well known, but Cicero less so. However historians know more about Cicero than almost other Roman. Of the surviving texts we have from Ancient Rome's Republic, Cicero's works are more than all the rest put together. So much of Cicero's work survived because he has been widely held to be the greatest orator in the history of ancient Rome. Some go as far as to say, Cicero was the greatest orator of all time. Besides rather extensive knowledge of Cicero's accomplishments from his own work, and from historians, we also know that Cicero was a major influence on King Henry VIII. At age 8, the King wrote on his copy of Cicero's De Civilis 'this Boke is Myne.' Cicero's ideas of secular law were fundamental to the King starting the Reformation, when the separation of church and state powers really started in England. Thus when defining the Declaration of Independence, with its separation of natural rights and Constitutional rights, it is not surprising that Jefferson's original draft echo Cicero's manner of rhetoric, 'When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a people to advance from that subordination in which they have hitherto remained, & to assume among the powers of the earth the equal & independant station to which the laws of nature & 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 change..' One can also see why people don't read Cicero so much these days. When first sharing this essay, there were complaints about the length of my sentences. But my longest sentence's don't even come close to Cicero's rhetoric, which deliberately used the longest sentences one could possibly imagine, to hold his audience's attention.
Cicero held that secular law is a rational deduction from the normal human condition, within the 'Laws of Nature.' The argument is best understood by the many examples of Roman law implementing Ciceros' idea of secular natural law. My favorite is whether one can sue a beekeeper for bee stings (from the Corpus Juris Civilis, a 6th-century landmark in legal history as the first unified statement of Roman Law).
Bees provide honey to eat, and we need them to pollinate flowers. So bees are not only necessary but good. It is in the nature of bees to fly where they wish, as much as they can, and It is in the nature of bees to protect themselves by stings. Therefore, beekeepers are not liable for bee stings. This case also illustrates how an evolving society can alter secular law. Bees are not so necessary in cities, so if hummingbirds or other pollinators are available, beehives can be restricted there.
The same argument from the laws of nature applies to the right-to-life debate. Unless there is some catastrophic interference with the normal processes of human biology, babies naturally are born after conception. But now, we have to refer also to Locke's primary right to life, that God should choose the length of a person's life, not us. Therefore, in the natural world in which we live, human beings have no right to terminate a pregnancy except in extremely extenuating circumstances.
From a Jeffersonian perspective, there really is no doubt about it at all.
C. Illegal Immigration
Illegal immigrants are only beneficiaries of USA's social contract insofar as they pay taxes, and otherwise are not entitled to any benefits beyond the human rights defined by international accord in the United Nations, as described in Section One.
D. Capital Punishment
The same deduction Jeffersonian rights for Abortion applies to the death sentence. As per the first, primary, right to life, citizens have no right to interfere with others' natural lifespans. Strangely, the USA's two main political parties take opposing stances on this issue: Democrats support right-to-choice but not the Capital Punishment; and Republicans, vice versa:
- The Republican argument for the death sentence is that people are born innocent, but lose the right to their own lives after committing serious crime.
- The Democrats instead say liberty is more important than life, and Capital Punishment is necessary when people so kill others that liberty is lost.
Both positions are contrary to Jefferson's intent in different ways.
E. The 2nd Amendment
As discussed in more detail on a The separate page on this site, the founders supported self defense, which the Supreme Court's 2008 Heller Decision upheld as a limited right. NRA advocates have gleefully stated that Locke supported the NRA position in the Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 3, sections 17-20; which is true. Locke states that individuals otherwise face persecution by those preferring a state of war. Generally neglected is the following section 21, in which Locke compares how he would feel, if he had to kill in self defense, to Jephthah's anguish after sacrificing his own daughter for success in war. Hearing pro-gun enthusiasts talk, they sound like they are itching for an opportunity just to show off how wise they were in their weapon choice; and the widening partisan divide has now driven Democrats to demand banning guns altogether, which is practically impossible.
F. Slavery Reparation
The Centuries of Ordeal after Liberation from Roman and U.S. Slavery - An article comparing the USA's abolition of slavery with Sulla liberating a slave and then immediately having him thrown off a cliff.
The Tragic Perpetuity of Conflicts over People's Rights - Due to lack of knowledge on the origination and evolution of People's Rights (also known as human rights), there is no end in sight to conflicts on their implementation.