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The Northern Cross - Opinion
Sara Rowe: We must decide who will best defend founding principles
In this election year, opposing interpretations of America’s founding principles have been brought to light.
It was recently stated at one of the presidential debates that our Constitution has to be read in the context of another founding document. Some argue against this. Have we heard this argument before?
In 1770, Thomas Jefferson said we do not claim our natural rights under charters of kings or legislators, but under the King of kings. Later he said our Declaration of Independence is the declaratory charter of our rights and the rights of man; the founders wrote that all men were created equal in the eyes of natural law (not to mean each possesses equal virtues).
James Wilson, architect of the Constitution and signer of the Declaration, in law lectures at a public university explaining the meaning of the Constitution and the origin of law, stated that if laws come strictly from government, “the right of individuals to their private property, to their personal liberty, to their health, to their reputation, and to their life, flow from a human establishment, and can be traced to no higher source. The [connection] between man and his natural rights is intercepted by the institution of civil society. If this view be a just view of things . . . man is not only made for, but made by the government: he is nothing but what the society frames: he can claim nothing but what the society provides. His natural state and his natural rights are withdrawn altogether from notice.” In contrast, we were blessed with a Constitution framed in the light of natural rights and duties — the pillars of justice.
Natural rights were discarded by the king before the Revolution, as they, too, were for slaves in America, illustrated by the argument of John Quincy Adams at the U.S. Supreme Court. Appealing to justice for the Africans on the Amistad, Adams accused the executive branch of applying law contrary to natural law, which gave the power to dispose of persons and property. He pointed to the Declaration and asked if that principle was anywhere to be found in the Declaration, telling those justices that they have the Declaration implanted into their hearts, but reminding them of the tyrannical acts of George III.
Adams argued that if the principles of the court based on positive law, separated from the natural law, are sound, it would reduce to brute force all the rights of man.
“. . . It places all the sacred relations of life at the power of the strongest. No man has a right to life or liberty, if he has an enemy able to take them from him. The moment you come, to the Declaration of Independence, that every man has a right to life and liberty, an inalienable right, this case is decided. I ask nothing more [for] these men, than this Declaration. The opposite principle is laid down, not by unintelligent or unthinking man, but is given to the public and to the Court, as from one of the biggest intellects of the South. Your honors see what it comes to, when it is carried out.”
The founders understood principles of law. Our faith also acknowledges them, strictly speaking, not as truths of faith, even though it’s discoverable and comes into full light in the message of Christ, but as supported by rational reflection that can be presented to all people of good will independently of religious affiliation. Natural law has its basis in human nature.
Today, under veil of moral relativism, sacred relations of life, faith and freedom are discarded, and government becomes a tyrant. Whether one fully conforms to the precepts of the church or not, inalienable rights of Catholics and others to religious liberty are on the verge of severe compromise. Hospitals, schools and individuals will be forced by edict to violate sacred moral laws of nature and faith.
This November, guided by faith and reason, we must choose who will best defend our founding principles. We must defend these in the public square as well as the private.
Sara Rowe resides in Duluth.
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