When the American Founders created the U. S. Explanation of self-reliance of 1776, they collection down necessary philosophical ethics to defend and justify their flexibility from brother rule and also their formation of a new, live independence nation, the United says of America. One an essential principle check by the Founders to be the unalienable legal rights of mankind—the “self-evident truth” that all males “are endowed by your Creator with details unalienable Rights, that amongst these are Life, Liberty and also the pursuit of Happiness.” What is not regularly recognized this day is that influential European philosophers and also the American co-founder grounded, articulated, and also affirmed the idea of unalienable rights, in huge part, based upon the regulation of Nature and God, the Bible, and also Judeo-Christian thought.

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Unalienable civil liberties are organic rights. What precisely are organic rights and unalienable rights? organic rights room the God-given or innate birthrights or nature of every mankind due to our nature and also dignity as human being beings. These civil liberties are grounded in the regulation of Nature and also God, the universal ethical law. These legal rights include, as thinker John Locke explains in his 1689 Second treatise of polite Government, one’s personhood, means, and also possessions—his life, body and health, liberty, labor and industry, and goods and estates. Natural rights have the right to be classified especially in 2 ways—as “alienable” or “unalienable.” “Alienable” legal rights or properties incorporate an individual’s means, labor, and possessions that can be transferred–bought, sold, or given–and hence removed or alienated native the owner together he watch fit, because that example, in order to do a life or to better his own or another’s life. “Unalienable” or “inalienable” legal rights are those nature of personhood that cannot be transferred, removed, or alienated indigenous an individual by any kind of person, power, or civil legislation without simply cause. Law so would violate the legislation of Nature and God. Because that mankind does no have complete control or authority over these properties. Unalienable rights, as recognized in the Declaration, encompass life, liberty, and also the search of happiness.


The idea of organic rights was articulated in the 1100s and also 1200s through European middle ages Christian lawyers dealing with property law in the Catholic Christian church. This lawyers perceived property or dominium as a herbal right based upon Genesis 1 in i m sorry God create mankind in His image and also gives him ascendancy over the earth. Genesis 1:26-27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let united state make man in our image, according to our likeness. Allow them have dominion…over all the earth.’ for this reason God developed man in His own image, male and also female .”1 however the lawyers thought that when a person’s material property is transferrable or alienable, the home of his personhood such together his life is non-transferrable or unalienable. In the 1400s, liberty was likewise articulated as a organic right. French scholar and theologian Jean Charlier de Gerson articulated liberty as a organic right in his 1402 De Vita Spirituali Animae or The Life of spirituality Souls. Soon after, Dominican theologians share liberty together unalienable. Life and also liberty thus happened theologically expressed together sacred, unalienable civil liberties of mankind.

Later, Christian thinkers the the reformation era of the 1500s indirect supported herbal rights due to their belief that person beings, as developed by God, have certain duties to God. French religious reformer john Calvin asserted in his 1536 Institutes the the Christian Religion that human beings have actually duties to God due to the fact that they space God’s “workmanship” or masterpiece. Calvin paint, etc this idea from Ephesians 2:10 in which the Apostle Paul expresses, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, i m sorry God hath ordained, the we need to walk in them .” (KJV, GNV)2 Calvin hence writes, “How have the right to the idea that God enter your mind without instantly giving rise come the believed that due to the fact that you space His workmanship, you room bound, by the an extremely law of creation, to submit to His authority?—that your life is as result of Him?—that everything you perform ought to have actually reference come Him ?”3 The idea that human beings have actually natural rights due to the fact that of their duties come God, was asserted by reformed politics writers including John Ponet in his 1556 Short writing on political Power and also Stephen Junius Brutus in his 1579 Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos.


Cover page of Two Treatises of civil Government by man Locke, 1689.

Enlightenment-era British theorist John Locke, in his 1689 Second Treatise, presented a clear, modern-day explanation of organic rights which became very influential to early Americans and also American founding political thought. Locke common the see of Christian thinkers like Calvin that due to the fact that human beings are developed by God, lock have particular duties come God. Locke walk on to assert the individuals, as developed by and also owing duties to God, possess certain natural rights consisting of “life, liberty, and estate” i m sorry are necessary to keep humanity, maintain order, and perform together duties in the world. Showing Calvin, Locke expressed the idea uncovered in Ephesians 2:10 that guy is god’s workmanship in order come ground the principle of organic rights. He reasons, …

…Men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and also infinitely wise Maker, every the servants of one can be fried Master, sent into the world by His stimulate and about His business; they space His property, who workmanship they are, made come last during His, not one another’s, pleasure. And gift furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one ar of Nature, over there cannot be an alleged any such subordination amongst us that might authorize united state to damage one another, as if us were created one another’s uses…. Every one, together he is bound to keep himself and also not come quit his station willfully, for this reason by the favor reason, once his own preservation comes no in competition, ought he as much as he can to maintain the remainder of mankind, and may not, unless it it is in to do justice on one offender, take away or impair the life (or what has tendency to the preservation of the life), the liberty, health, limb, or items of another.

As such, Locke check that guy is god’s property, created for God’s and not another’s purpose and use. As a result, person beings have natural civil liberties which they are bound to uphold. Locke was essentially saying that herbal rights allow human beings—who possess a distinct identity and also relationship v God—to openly worship and also follow God, serve as stewards because that God, and fulfill your God-ordained duties and purposes top top earth.

The American Founders’ expertise of natural rights was largely affected by Locke. They thought that natural rights room the innate gift that God, the Creator, because that mankind. Civil governments may secure this rights, yet they carry out not originally give them. As such, federal governments cannot take away these civil liberties without just cause, and also men may justly safeguard their legal rights for self-preservation. Importantly, the Founders well-known that removed God as the resource of organic or human being rights would certainly endanger this rights and freedoms.


Portrait the Samuel Adams by man Singleton Copley, 1772.

American Founder and also revolutionary leader Samuel Adams, drawing from Locke, addressed the American colonists’ natural rights to life, liberty (including spiritual liberty), and also estate in his 1772 revolutionary pamphlet, Report ~ above the rights of Colonists. Since God provides man life and dignity, Adams argued, man has a organic right to life. And as God provides man reason and totally free will come reflect and also choose, man has a organic right come liberty—including political and religious liberty. Man likewise has a God-given right to his labor and possessions because that his survival. Adams, choose Locke, safeguarded these civil liberties by their origin in the law of Nature and God. That writes the liberty, because that example, “‘Just and also true liberty, equal and also impartial liberty’ in matters spiritual and temporal is a point that all men are plainly entitled to by the eternal and also immutable regulations of God and Nature, as well as by the regulation of nations & all well-grounded municipal regulations which must have actually their foundation in the former.”5 Adams additional recognized that the bible supports this rights, the they “may be ideal understood by reading and also carefully studying the institutes of the great Lawgiver and head the the Christian Church which space to be found very closely written and also promulgated in the New Testament.”6


Presidential Portrait of cutting board Jefferson through Rembrandt Peale, 1800.

American Founder and primary author of the Declaration, cutting board Jefferson mutual the long-held check out that life and liberty to be natural, unalienable rights. He recognized that such legal rights were the gift the God, stating in his 1774 summary View the the rights of brothers America, “The God who provided us life, gave us liberty in ~ the same time. The hand of pressure may destroy, however cannot disjoin them.”7 However, unlike plenty of Calvinists in America and England, Jefferson did not classify male “estate” as unalienable. Rather, in line with the moral-sense thinkers that the Scottish Enlightenment—including Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, and Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui—Jefferson identified man’s goods, possessions, and also fruits of labor as transferrable or alienable property. Together such, that did not list “estate” together an unalienable ideal in the Declaration yet instead noted the “pursuit that happiness.”


Portrait of James Madison by man Vanderlyn, 1816.

American Founder, Federalist Papers author, and architect that the U. S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, James Madison shared Locke’s idea that organic rights to be granted come mankind based on their duties to God. In speaking of spiritual liberty, because that example, Madison wrote in the Virginia declaration of legal rights of 1776, “Religion, the duty us owe come our Creator and the way of discharging it, have the right to be command by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. Therefore, all males are same entitled to the cost-free exercise of religion according come conscience. The is the shared duty of all to exercise Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other .”8 Madison reasserted in his 1785 Memorial and also Remonstrance this idea the inherent, unalienable legal rights such as religious liberty are based on mankind’s herbal duties come God, i beg your pardon exist prior to civil society: “Religion have to be left to the conviction and also conscience of every man. is unalienable because the opinions the men…cannot follow the dictates of other men. What is here a ideal towards guys is a duty towards the Creator. This duty is precedent to the insurance claims of civil society .”9


Portrait of U. S. Can be fried Court justice James Wilson

American Founder, lawyer professor, and also U. S. Supreme Court justice James Wilson likewise supported the rule of natural and unalienable legal rights in his 1790-1791 Lectures top top Law and in his 1793 court decision Chisholm vs. Georgia. In his Lectures, he observed the all people possess natural rights which room upheld by the global moral regulation of God and also Nature. The writes, …

The natural rights and also duties of guy belong equally to all. Each develops a component of that great system, whose best interest and happiness space intended by every the laws of God and also nature. These laws prohibit the wisest and the most an effective from inflicting misery on the meanest and also most ignorant, and also from depriving them of their civil liberties or simply acquisitions. By these laws, civil liberties herbal or got are confirmed, in the very same manner, to all–to the weak and artless, their small acquisitions, and also to the strong and artful, their large ones.10

In Chisholm vs. Georgia, Wilson, prefer Locke, referenced principles from Genesis 1, Ephesians 2:10, and also Psalm 139:14 (in i beg your pardon the individual is defined as “fearfully and also wonderfully made”). The thus protected from the holy bible a who God-given legal rights that have to be defended by civil government. Similarly expressing the idea of guy as God’s workmanship uncovered in Ephesians 2:10, Wilson expounds, “MAN, fearfully and also wonderfully made, is the workmanship that his all perfect CREATOR. A State, as advantageous and an useful as the contrivance is, is the inferior contrivance the man and also from man’s indigenous dignity derives all its gained importance .”11 since the state is composed of the people, Wilson basically asserted, if the state diminishes the rights and dignity of the individual citizen, that basically likewise diminishes the legal rights of the state itself.

The rule of God-given natural, unalienable civil liberties of “life, liberty, and the quest of happiness” is a an essential philosophical rule expressed in the U. S. Declaration of Independence and also reflected in the U. S. Constitution. Taking up Locke’s worldview and arguments, the American Founders grounded man’s organic rights in the “Creator God” and the “Law that Nature and Nature’s God.” They thought about these rights to be a gift indigenous God granted to humankind as God’s image-bearing masterpiece, His workmanship. Together rights enabled mankind to accomplish their God-ordained duties in life. Indeed, the Founders to be acutely aware that removing God or the moral law as the ground connection of organic rights would location those rights in jeopardy. Because that if one can separate these civil liberties from the divine source, one might justify taking them far at will for any kind of reason. Jefferson pressed the suggest in his 1781 Notes ~ above the State of Virginia: “Can the liberties of a country be assumed secure once we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the mental of the people that these liberties room the gift the God? the they space not to be violated but with His wrath?”12 The principle of natural, unalienable legal rights in America’s establishing philosophy is, affirms Steven Waldman in his 2008 Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the birth of spiritual Freedom in America, the “best debate that Judeo-Christian tradition influenced the creation of our nation.”13


<1> King James version (KJV)

<2> 1599 Geneva bible (GNV); King James variation (KJV)

<3> man Calvin, The institutes of the Christian Religion: A new Translation, vol. 1, trans. Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh, Scotland: published for Calvin translation Society, 1845), publication 1, 52-53.

<4> man Locke, Second writing of polite Government, 1690, in Two Treatises on Government (London: George Routledge and also Sons, 1884), chapter 2, 194.

<5> Samuel Adams, “A State that the rights of Colonists,” 1772, in Tracts of the American Revolution, 1763-1776, ed. Merrill Jensen (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1967), 236.

<6> Adams, “Rights the Colonists,” 238.

<7> thomas Jefferson, A review View that the legal rights of british America collection Forth in part Resolutions, 1774 (Williamsburg: printed by Clementina Rind; London: Reprinted because that G. Kearsly, 1774), 43.

<8> Virginia declaration of Rights, 1776, in Documents that American Democracy: A repertoire of necessary Works, ed. Roger L. Kemp (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2010), 54.

<9> James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against spiritual Assessments, 1785, in The writings of James Madison: 1783-1787, vol. 2, ed. Gaillard hunt (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1901), 184-185.

<10> James Wilson, Lectures ~ above Law, part 1, 1790-1791, in The works of the Honourable James Wilson, vol. 1, ed. Bird Wilson (Philadelphia, PA: Lorenzo Press, printed for Bronson and Chauncey, 1804), 308.

<11> Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793). Natural Law, natural Rights, and also American Constitutionalism virtual Resource (2012), Witherspoon Institute, (accessed April 2012).

<12> thomas Jefferson, Notes top top the State of Virginia, 1785, 8 hours ed (Boston, MA: printed by David Carlisle, 1801), 241.

<13> Steven Waldman, Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and also the bear of spiritual Freedom in America (New York: random House, 2008), 92-93.


Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

This essay (with endnotes) is available as a printable PDF handout in the member resources section on americanheritage.org. Merely sign up and also login together a member (no cost), go to the resources page, and also look under wonder of America essays.

Source for an ext information: Kamrath, Angela E. The wonder of America: The affect of the scriptures on the Founding background and values of the United states of America because that a world of Every Belief. Second Edition. Houston, TX: American Heritage education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

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Poster: explanation of Independence


Activity: The miracle of America High college Teacher food Guide, Unit 7, part 2, activity 4: ethics of the statements of Independence, p. 252, 362-365. MS-HS.

Principles the the statements of Independence…. (may be continued from component 1 of this unit)

Purpose/Objective: Students learn key principles that the statements of Independence including Creator God, law of Nature and Nature’s God, popular Sovereignty, Unalienable Rights, and Social Contract, and how historical, influential thinkers and early Americans connected these concepts with the Bible.

Suggested Readings:1) chapter 7 of Miracle of America reference/text. Students read sections 7.1-7.20, 7.23, and also pp. 236-237.2) Essay/Handout: Principles that the declaration of Independence by Angela E. Kamrath found in the “Supporting Resources” of the miracle of America HS Teacher food Guide, pp. 362-365, or in the “Miracle the America Snapshots” handout under member resources at americanheritage.org.3) “Historical figures Quoted in Miracle that America” and “References to the law of Nature and Natural rights in Miracle the America” in “Supporting Resources” of the wonder of America HS Teacher course Guide, pp. 347-348, 360-61, 366-371.4) associated blogs/videos (see above).Reading and also Questions:Have students review the “Principles of the explanation of Independence” handout and, as desired, relevant short articles on The founding Blog and also relevant part in Miracle the America message as suggested on the handout. (The Miracle book is dense, high-level reading, so if you great to have actually students read straight from the book, assign particular sections and then analyze and discuss the analysis together as a class. You might wish to task some message on-screen. Answer questions, clear up vocabulary, and fill in other details as needed. The text evaluation will aid students understand the terms and also concepts, and also it is good practice for having students read historical text and excerpts.) ~ the reading, have actually students write answers come the questions that monitor on the handout. Discuss. This analysis or parts of this reading may be done in either the an initial or second component of this unit together the teacher find appropriate. Review inquiries are additionally found in chapter 7 the the Miracle of America text, p. 240.


To download this totality unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to accessibility the “resources” page on americanheritage.org. To order the printed binder style of the course guide with all the units, walk to the AHEF bookstore.

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