Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Natural Rights Are Surrendered only to the Greatest Possible Equivalent

Principle #2: Natural rights are bestowed by God

Our founders understood that threats to liberty could be found in both anarchy and tyranny. Thus they earnestly sought to frame a government built on foundational principles that would extend to men the greatest possible equivalent for the natural rights that would of necessity be surrendered to the establishment of law and order.

"The reason and understanding of mankind, as well as the experience of all ages, confirm the truth of this proposition, that the benefits resulting to individuals from a free government, conduce much more to their happiness, than the retaining of all their natural rights in a state of nature… [however] no man ought to surrender any part of his natural rights, without receiving the greatest possible equivalent...” (The Essex Result, April 29, 1778)

John Jay in Federalist #2 wrote: "Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers."

The Federalist Papers dealt almost exclusively with articulating what was the "greatest possible equivalent" for the surrender of some natural rights. The papers, which were making the case for the ratification of the Constitution reflected the priories laid out in the preamble.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Americans would delegate some of their natural rights in order to provide the federal government the necessary powers to provide for the common defense and ensure uniform justice among the states. Alexander Hamilton explained it thus:

Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free. ~ Federalist 8

Beyond security and justice, there was great need to "promote the general welfare," which at the time of the founding was also considered a paramount issue of reducing conflict and thus ensuring peace among the states, but what did it mean? James Madison in Federalist 10 gives some insight into the kind of general welfare they were concerned with effectuating.

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. However anxiously we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence, of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true... for that prevailing and increasing distrust of public engagements, and alarm for private rights, which are echoed from one end of the continent to the other. These must be chiefly, if not wholly, effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

The founders concept of the general welfare dealt primarily with the systems that would balance the interests of the majority and the rights of the minority, that would fairly adjudicate the competing rights of the citizens and competing powers of states and federal government. Thus the general welfare of ALL citizens would be served, and not just the most powerful or most plentiful.

The greatest possible equivalent that was gained for this delegation of natural rights to the formation of the government was a tranquility and peace among the populous and protection from threat from abroad, but the surrender of any portion of natural rights is to be considered very carefully and our founders believed that it would require an eternal vigilance of a well informed electorate to be sure that the government did not overstep it's bounds.

Thomas Jefferson therefore gave this description of the primary aims of education in a free nation:

"TO KNOW HIS RIGHTS; to exercise with order and justice those he retains; TO CHOOSE WITH DISCRETION the fiduciary of THOSE HE DELEGATES; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor and judgment; And, in general, TO OBSERVE WITH INTELLIGENCE AND FAITHFULNESS ALL THE SOCIAL RELATIONS UNDER WHICH HE SHALL BE PLACED. TO INSTRUCT the mass of OUR CITIZENS IN these, THEIR RIGHTS, INTERESTS AND DUTIES, as men and citizens, being then the objects of education..."

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