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And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.—Genesis 9:1
This Biblical commandment to Noah echoes nature’s commandment to every living thing on Earth. No species violates this law without perishing into the fossilized record of history.
Nature secondly commands survival, which law flows from the first. This second law exists only as to the degree which it supports the first.
From the human standpoint, these two laws necessitate that every human individual must provide self-sufficient offspring to perpetuate the species—and further, must provide enough children for those individuals who, for whatever reasons, can not. And even further, that each human being has certain personal rights and responsibilities, held by each individual, that must be retained in order to carry out these laws. The individual alone is responsible for maintaining these subsidiary rights lest the more powerful usurp them to the damage of the species as a whole.
The most important of these subordinate individual rights is the right to life, and with it, the absolute responsibility to defend this life, at whatever cost.
Many other individual rights and responsibilities follow on the right to life. Among these are: the right to acquire property needed for survival in lean times, and the responsibility to defend it; the right of the individual to associate with those who may help, and the responsibility to disassociate from those who may not and to separate from any association at any time for any reason; and, the right and responsibility to form opinions as to what is best or what is worst, to hold them, and to act on them.
The revolutionary councils of the various colonies finally broke with Britain over the continuing violations of the natural rights of the British citizens in America. They further stated in the hard words of the Declaration of Independence that the only reason a government existed in the first place was to “to secure these rights.” They restated it strongly again in the Preamble of the Constitution that the purpose of the United States federal government was to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
The members of the Constitutional Convention argued hotly over the inclusion of an enumeration of individual rights. The Federalist called the enumeration “unnecessary,” “preposterous,” “dangerous,” and “highly imprudent.” James Wilson of Pennsylvania, in particular, argued, “In all societies, there are many powers and rights, which cannot be particularly enumerated. … If we attempt an enumeration, every thing that is not enumerated, is presumed to be given.”
Wilson, who drafted the constitution and later, as a Supreme Court Justice, observed that “The defence of one’s self, justly called the primary law of nature, is not, nor can it be abrogated by any regulation of municipal law. This principle of defence is not confined merely to the person; it extends to the liberty and the property of a man: it is not confined merely to his own person; it extends to the persons of all those, to whom he bears a peculiar relation—of his wife, of his parent, of his child, of his master, of his servant: nay, it extends to the person of every one, who is in danger; perhaps, to the liberty of every one, whose liberty is unjustly and forcibly attacked. It becomes humanity as well as justice.”
Jefferson and the Republicans argued for a Bill of Rights for: “providing clearly & without the aid of sophisms for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction against monopolies, the eternal & unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land & not by the law of nations;” and, “a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, & what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences.”
Eventually the Congress adopted ten of the twelve amendments of the proposed Bill of Rights. To address the fears of the Federalists they adopted Amendment IX: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” They further strengthed the sentiment with Amendment X: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof—Lev. 25:10.
The American citizen retains every natural right—whether enumerated or not. As Thomas Jefferson stated, “… the idea is quite unfounded, that on entering into society we give up any natural right.” Jefferson limited those natural rights in that “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him; every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society; and this is all the laws should enforce on him; and, no man having a natural right to be the judge between himself and another, it is his natural duty to submit to the umpirage of an impartial third.”
The First Federal Congress of the United States forwarded twelve amendments enumerating the citizen’s individual rights to the states for ratification September 25, 1789. With Virginia’s ratification, December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights became Federal constitutional law. The ten amendments adopted:
- —Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
- —A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
- —No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
- —The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
- —No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
- —In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
- —In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
- —Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
- —The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
- —The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Inherent to the rights held by the American citizen is the philosophy that in a free society, all citizens hold these rights equally as individuals. No citizen, nor group of citizens, holds any right not held by any other individual citizen; nor can any citizen, group of citizens, nor any branch of the state or federal governments, endow another with, or deprive another of, any particualr right. Thomas Gordon, an Englishman, offered (Cato’s Letter No. 62, 1722) the only generally aknowledged limits known to the individual rights of a private individual in a society of equals:
By liberty, I understand the power which every man has over his own actions, and his right to enjoy the fruit of his labour, art, and industry, as far as by it he hurts not the society, or any members of it, by taking from any member, or by hindering him from enjoying what he himself enjoys.