Natural rights and US Constitutional rights

Ok, curious.

How would you explain the fact that the preamble says that Constitutional rights are “endowed by their creator”?

How about that the Bill of Rights say that “In order for Right X to not be infringed” instead of “We guarantee Right X,” to make sure you understand that these rights are God-given and not conferred by the government?

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That’s the Declaration of Independence. The Preamble to the Constitution reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.

The Constitution, and our rights, come from the people.

That is an unwarranted supposition on your part. What are you basing that on? That phrasing doesn’t even appear in the Bill of Rights once, anyway.

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OK, thanks for the clarification. Follow-up question: Do you think context matters when performing exegesis on documents?

For instance, if the Constitution contains only protection of life, liberty and property, and the Declaration of Independence says this country was established to protect life, liberty and property, that that is an important link on how to interpret it?

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That says the people will protect those rights, not where they come from.

We the people…do ordain and establish

There’s not that kind of linkage between the two documents, no. They had individual purposes.

All it says about where they come from is that the people have written them into a constitution.


I guess I don’t find it plausible that there is no link between the establishment of the country and the supreme law of the country when both use exact wording and the entirety of the Constitution functions to enshrine the rights in the Declaration.

…the document, not the rights therein.

Right, but the triad (life, liberty, property) originated with John Locke who believed the rights are inborn. And he derived them from the Old Testament.

And the Bill of Rights only mention what the government cannot do, not what it can do.

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But they could have easily included such language in the Constitution if they had wanted to. That they didn’t wasn’t an accident. They deliberately intended to keep religion and government separate, hardly surprisingly when you consider the recent European history of the time. Anyone can imagine what they want about things–like about what “creator” means, for one thing–but the Constitution is explicit in what it says. I’ll stick with that when interpreting these legal documents instead of trying to base things on various imaginings.

Right, but the triad (life, liberty, property) originated with John Locke who believed the rights are inborn. And he derived them from the Old Testament.

Doesn’t matter. The Constitution is the law of the land, not John Locke’s thoughts.

And the Bill of Rights only mention what the government cannot do, not what it can do.

So what?

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The document codifies the rights. They aren’t the right of jaysus.



OK, you just said you’ll stick to what the Constitution says explicitly then you point to European history of the time, which means you also recognize that context is important.

By the way, I agree that the Founders wanted to avoid the church-state messiness they saw in Europe. Politics poisons everything it touches, so it shouldn’t touch religion.

This is a discussion on where Constitutional rights come from, not what the rights are.

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What’s your point? I’m going to codify what I’m going to do today.

I get where you’re coming from and share what I think are similar concerns. Natural rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Natural rights, the idea, comes from classical Greek philosophy. Natural rights, the idea, were picked up in the Enlightenment and juxtaposed against the divine rights monarchs possessed. A divine right could trump a natural right if a monarch so wished, and that was one of the foci of the Enlightenment.

Where I share your concerns is in the differences between natural rights and human rights, which are not the same.

Natural rights are part of what it means to be a human being, and are beyond the authority of government to dismiss. Natural rights can be limited under very careful circumstances; this careful curtailment is necessary or government loses its moral authority. Governments that deny or remove natural rights have no moral authority.

Human rights, otoh, are subject to the whims of government to either establish or take away.


It’s important for considering their motivation for what they wrote, but not what they wrote means, which is what you seem to be suggesting.

Have you ever seen a facsimile of the Constitution or the original? There is some emphasis on those first three words! That wasn’t an accident either, obviously.

That’s what the Constitution says about where Constitutional rights comes from. You’d have to imagine anything beyond that. It would be an impossible task to try to do so, and why would you unless you had some preconceived purpose? The Constitution itself tells us all we need to know. The rights come from us.

And what body will ratify it?

I’m absolutely talking about intent.

Yes. I live about 20 minutes from the National Archives.

“We the people” wrote this Constitution to protect your rights, not “We the people” give you these rights.

Back to my earlier point, the Bill of Rights only uses negative language.

“We can’t infringe on X Right.”

Specially, not “We give you X right.”

Apparently their clearest intent was to attribute the inception of Constitutional rights to “We the People”.

That would be your interpretation. I would not say “we” are “giving” us the rights, but “we” are the only discernible source of the rights, as the Constitution is written. I would say that is incontrovertible given the wording of the Constitution. I guess we’re going in circles, so I’ll let others step in on this if they want.

You’ve said that several times, but again, so what?

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You say it’s incontrovertible but don’t provide any support.

The negative language I cited is evidence it’s the Constitution is meant to prevent violation of the rights, not to originate them.

Just read the preamble :man_shrugging: