Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C.
America is the first nation in world history to be founded upon natural law. It may be the only nation on the planet today to rest upon natural law.
One of the favorite thinkers and writers of the American Founding Fathers was Cicero, the Romans lawyer and philosopher. He said that whoever is disobedient to natural law is “fleeing from himself and denying his human nature.”
Ready for a quick dose of history? You can do this!
Do Nations Form By Random Chance?
Or does the Creator have a say in the life of nations throughout history? Here’s the Apostle Paul in the intellectual center of his day:
“He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’”
- Paul in the Areopagus, Athens, Greece, Acts 17.26-28
To Paul, the Creator has a clear say in the nations, desiring that they would ultimately seek Him.
What About America?
In what ways has God been involved in the life of America? And on what basis is American society founded?
Our Founding Fathers went through a very deliberate and thoughtful process as the nation was birthed and began to take shape. They were serious students of history. Many were believing Christians. They all had a high vision for America. They were looking for something unique that could benefit not only the citizens of the new nation, but also the nations of the world.
In this series, we’ll highlight the core elements in the formation and life of America. Let’s start by looking at something brilliant – natural law.
Natural law was referred to a lot in the years leading up to the War of Independence and the shaping of the new nation. Today, most Americans do not really understand what it is. And yet a society based upon natural law is brilliant.
Cicero was a leading Romans lawyer and philosopher in his time (106-43 BC). Through his study of various political systems, he envisioned a future model society based upon natural law.
He believed that a Supreme Creator of the universe had designed natural law into the very nature of creation. It cannot be flaunted. It is absolute reality.
“True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by it prohibitions …
And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge.
Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature …”
- Cicero, Roman lawyer and philosopher
Natural law comes directly from the Creator. It does not come from a king, a social compact, or any government. And so the rights of natural law are “unalienable” … because they are given by the Creator, they cannot be taken away by any man or any government.
The Gift of Reason
Remember what Cicero said: “True law is right reason in agreement with nature.”
Cicero was able to understand something of the reality behind natural phenomena, governments, and even his own life as it unfolded.
He believed that a special characteristic given to humanity by the Creator was the ability to reason. The Judeo-Christian understanding is that this capacity to reason is a key element of the imago dei, the image of God in man. Drawing upon passages such as Psalm 19 and Romans 1, Christian theologians would understand this as general revelation, available to all apart from the special revelation of Scripture.
It is through reason that we are able to come to common-sense conclusions. We are able to arrive at a baseline consensus.
Natural Rights Spring from Natural Law
Our natural rights flow from natural law. Thomas Jefferson would refer to “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” in the Declaration of Independence.
The Preamble establishes that the Creator has endowed all mankind freedom and unalienable rights.
“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.”
This is clearly the most famous sentence written on natural law. Notice the facets of this beautiful sentence …
- We hold these truths. Natural law is made up of truths revealed. Natural law is not composed by man or the State. The truth itself is unalienable – not capable of being repudiated.
- To be self-evident. These truths are manifestly evident to everyone. As we reflect and reason, we know them to be true.
- All men are created equal. We are not guaranteed “equal” lives, yet we are created equal and may pursue happiness, making of our lives what we will.
- We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. Our birthrights come from the Creator, not the State. If human government can give us rights, they can take them away. No, these rights are unalienable – they cannot be transferred to another and they cannot be repudiated. By anyone, including the State.
The Founders also believed there were additional natural rights in addition to the three main rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These included:
- The right of free conscience
- The right to free speech
- The right to freedom of religion
- The right to privacy
- The right to assemble
- The right to a free press
- The right to petition
- The right to explore the natural resources of the earth
- The right to enjoy the fruits of one’s labors
- The right to provide personal security
- The right to own, develop, and dispose of property
- The right of self-government
America is doing some soul-searching right now. Many are wanting to learn about the uniqueness of the “American experiment.” This is a good thing.
Historians just may look at our time and see it as a redefining moment in our nation’s history.
© 2012 Brian Del Turco. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.