Donna K. Rice
Natural Law, History, and Heritage
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
Some Things Should Never Change
Unless you study law or politics you’re not likely to be familiar with the concept of Natural Law. If you love the history and legacy of American freedom my guess is Natural Law will resonate deeply with you. Why? Because Natural Law embraces those beliefs that freedom lovers hold dear. Here’s a short definition and explanation of Natural Law:
“Natural law encompasses the systems and understanding of God-given rights and justice that are applied universally to all mankind. Natural law is believed, by those who embrace the concept, to be everlasting, and common for all mankind. The foundation of many codified laws can be found in Natural Law. It undergirds the intrinsically held belief in the value and equality of all human beings.”
America’s founding fathers didn’t all agree on every point of life in the new nation they were building. They came together and knocked ideas and beliefs down to some basic principles. The concept of Natural Law became key to some of the founding fathers' thoughts, and the wording and principles central to our founding documents reflecting the basic principles on which they could agree.
Consider this phrase from the Declaration of Independence, “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.” Today, let’s unpack some of the wording in this statement in light of Natural Law. Words are powerful tools in the human experience. When we’re talking about such important matters as freedom and the governing principles of society, understanding builds bridges of communication.
“Truths” - In this context, the founders examined the human experience in light of history, government, and philosophical writings and determined that certain ideas held a quality that could be determined to be true. In our modern-day when so many discussions and ideologies have become fluid, it’s worth stopping for a moment and revisiting the concept of truth. What does it mean to conclude something is indisputably true?
“Self-evident” - Closely related to truth is the idea that some truths are recognizable simply by observation. They are so obvious that no explanation is necessary.
The phrase immediately following these two critical words is, “all men are created equal.” This bold statement is commonplace to us now after almost two hundred and fifty years of repetition. In the days of America’s formation, it was the dream of those who had suffered under tyrannical forms of oppression and government. It was the heart’s cry of those who had lived under monarchies that demanded service and homage by those of lesser value than they, by the common man.
History had taught that tyrannical forms of government devalued human life and the brave men and women who fought for a new country wanted a new basis upon which to govern themselves. The first truth they determined to identify was the concept that all men were created equal. While in practice, the new country wasn’t fully operating in line with this principle, it’s important to recognize it as an underlying thought.
There’s an unfortunate reality that humanity tends toward the imperfect treatment of its members. Throughout history, we see abuses, slavery, violence, and oppression. The perfect society probably never has, and never will exist. But. If we can come to an agreement about a principle to strive for and to verbalize as a foundation of thought, we create something to aspire to. That’s what our founders did. They created aspirations for a new government and a new society.
In our next post, we’ll continue to delve into how the concept of Natural Law became a basis for one of the most powerful phrases of our national heritage. Until then, ponder the ideas of truth and equality.