Principle #2: Natural rights are bestowed by God
“All men are born equally free. The rights they possess at their births are equal, and of the same kind. Some of those rights are alienable, and may be parted with for an equivalent. Others are unalienable and inherent, and of that importance, that no equivalent can be received in exchange… Those rights which are unalienable, and of that importance, are called the rights of conscience. We have duties, for the discharge of which we are accountable to our Creator and benefactor, which no human power can cancel… and that power which assumes a controul over it, is an usurper; for no consent can be pleaded to justify the controul, as any consent in this case is void.” (The Essex Result, April 29, 1778)
We are born equally free but we are not born equal. We all can see that in the conditions of men on earth there is not equality in the circumstances of our births nor equality at death. This is the condition of mortal life, it has always been and will always be. There is no earthly power that can eliminate the inequalities in this world, and many attempts to level the circumstances, conditions, and outcomes of individuals within society have produced misery and the destruction of individual agency and responsibility.
What then do the words of The Declaration of Independence mean when it says: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal?" Is it self evident that all persons are equal in the most basic sense? Clearly we are unequal in many ways. One may be born of more means than another, one of more talent or intelligence. In addition to our inborn advantages and disadvantage we are born of different circumstances, cultures, and even our differences of sex contribute to our unequal nature to one another. If it is self-evident that we are not equal in the sense of being equivalent to one another in both birth and life outcomes, then we should study out what self-evident truth the founders were proclaiming in The Declaration of Independence and other founding documents.
Let's examine the founders appeal to equality within the full context of this famous passage:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Notice what follows the pronouncement of equality, it is the endowment of natural rights. Every person born is born with unalienable rights endowed upon them by their Creator and only wrested from them by the evil acts of men who sin against God and his laws. With this view of equality, it is self-evident that all mankind stand equal before God and under God given law. Equality of circumstance, a level start, or an equal outcome are not possible in this world, but it is possible to strive nobly to establish the principles of liberty that establish justice for all.
There are realities of life that we must be resigned to if we are to find contentment within our mortal station. We must accept the reality that life is not fair in the sense of the equal distribution of substance, work, talent, intellect, and circumstance. We must understand that inequities of justice are the result of the failure to live true to the principles of free government not the result of it. When the charters of God given government are upheld the inevitable result is justice for all under the law.
Americans at our founding were more resigned to the inequality of the human condition then modern Americans are, and more informed of the evils attendant to the pursuit of a perfect equality.
"A perfect equality will indeed be produced—that is to say, equal wretchedness, equal beggary, and on the part of the petitioners, a woeful, helpless, and desperate disappointment. Such is the event of all compulsory equalizations. They pull down what is above; they never raise what is below; and they depress high and low together beneath the level of what was originally the lowest." ~ Edmund Burke
It is easier to be resigned to the inequality of the human condition when you see it as a necessary part of the designs of God, and easier to resist the impulse to achieve a perfect equality through force when you trust that God will make up the differences in his own due time.
Americans of our founding generation relied upon their understanding of the principles of free government and their reliance upon the providence of God for greater wisdom and patience. The satisfaction they found in the work they had performed was not without disappointment for the work that was left incomplete at their deaths, but they had the confidence of their principles which they hoped would lead to a more perfect union in the generations that would follow.