The American Constitution, the Old Testament, and "We the people"

Majority of Constitutional scholars are convinced that the bulk of ideas underpinning the U.S. Constitution are derived from John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government. In those pamphlets Locke quoted the Old Testament over eighty times, and the New Testament only once, because, as he said, the New Testament doesn’t have a theory of government.

One of the Constitutional ideas was that the people held political power, embodied in the passage, “We the people of the United States of America…do ordain and establish this Constitution.”

This notion was Locke’s innovation. Tulley said:

No one was willing to grant that the people either individually or collectively had the capacity to exercise political power themselves. In positing political individual popular sovereignty Locke thus repudiates 500 years of elite politcal holism.

Locke said he got this idea from Genesis. When Cain killed Abel, everybody knew they had a right to kill Cain.

That great law of nature, Whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. And Cain was so fully convinced that everyone had the right to destroy such a criminal, that after the murder of his brother, he cries out, ‘Every one that findeth me, shall slay me’; so plain was it writ in the hearts of mankind.

Quoted in Yechiel Leiter, John Locke’s Political Philosophy and the Hebrew Bible (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 125.

Thank you for bringing this crucial bit of knowledge to our attentions. :laughing:

Have you read the book or just an article aboot the book?

The Two Treatises or Leiter’s book? I am reading Leiter’s book right now.

That one.

Will you be providing as you read on the fly updates?

This seems to suggest that Cain was the one who thought eveyone had the right to axe him, not that

hmm? :idunno:

It’s a not so slight difference.


Well everyone was trying to kill him. That’s why he had to build his own city.


Are we just assuming for the sake of argument that Cain and Abel were like – real people who really lived, and not fictional characters made up by an ancient consortium of powerful storytelling douchebags?

No they weren’t real people. The ideas from the Bible that made their way into the Constitution is what matters.

It’s kind of not. All the fictitious people believed they had the right to kill the fictitious guy who killed his fictitious brother and so now we have self rule? :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

aha…caught ya editing.

Possibly, but its not as though there was a straight line between Cain and Abel and the right to arm bears. A LOT of other writings on the subject took place.

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I always edit.

We’re talking about popular sovereignty, not second amendement.

me too, usually before I hit REPLY.

Nothing gets by you. Look, I’m just waiting on my ride, keep reading. Sounds interesting.

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I remember once looking through the index of the Federalist Papers when arguing with someone that the Constitution was based on Biblical principles. There’s about half a dozen references to the Bible, and about 200 quotes from Classical Greece and Rome- not many references to democracies or republics in the Bible.

I wonder what the citizens of Periclean Athens or Republican Rome would think about that?

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Killing people who murdered others is pretty much an idea from everywhere. Extrapolating this to to a grant of power to people seems a stretch - if that’s the claim in the book, you’re not doing well in relaying the supposed connection. And if it’s true, why’s it matter?

The fictitious baby is being thrown out with the metaphorical bath water?


That’s a direct quote from Locke.

Like Tulley said, the idea was missing from Locke’s environment for 500 years.

Yeah no kidding, that’s why it’s called “natural law.” The Bible’s point is that everyone should know not to kill without being told. That’s why God was upset with Cain for killing in Gen. 4 when He didn’t command against killing until Gen. 9. The significance is that the Bible is where Locke draws his idea of “natural law” from.

I would doubt it . Like most Enlightenment figures, I would think Locke drew most of his ideas from the Classical world.

His two treatises are saturated with proofs from the Bible to make his case.

Is this an epistemology joke?

But the quote doesn’t make that direct connection.

OK, so support the connection that Locke got this great law of nature from the Bible - the quote provided doesn’t do even that - then make the connection that this was somehow extrapolated to a grant of power to the people that made it’s way to the constitution (which you haven’t supported at all).