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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: June 2014

On Declaring the Laws and Rights of Nature


This chapter focuses on the core text generally recognized as the symbol of America's revolutionary mind and moral theory: the Declaration of Independence. It elucidates the common understanding held by most Americans about concepts such as the laws and rights of nature, while also recognizing those areas where they disagreed. Many eighteenth-century Anglo-American statesmen and jurists understood that the purpose of statutory law was to embody and reflect the law of nature. Following John Locke (1632-1704) and later Enlightenment philosophers, colonial Americans typically defined the law of nature as a dictate of right reason. America's Revolutionary Founders also used the doctrine of natural, unalienable rights in the decade after 1776 as the immovable foundation on which to anchor and permanently fix their constitutional structures. The chapter examines how Jefferson and his fellow Revolutionaries understood what a natural right is.

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