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Lesson 6

Answer: The right to the Pursuit of Happiness is the right to be free from a government that forbids us to do what God allows or commands, and from a government that forces or even just allows us to do what God forbids. God's rules protect our rights by prohibiting individuals from doing certain acts that would violate our rights, like murder. But if we are going to have freedom, the power of individuals who make up the government must be limited as well. Want to see how the Founders said the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God limited government? Read On!
The Second Paragraph of the Declaration

"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 -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security. Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the Necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. the History of the present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World."

The Declaration is Proclaimed in Philadelphia July 8, 1776

How the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God

Limit Government

The Declaration's second paragraph presents the Founder's analysis of how the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God limit government. "Men," they said, are created equal . . . and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," including, as we have seen, the rights to "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." The purpose of government, they continued, is to secure these rights. But, by "deriving [its] just Powers from the Consent of the Governed," the only powers that a government can justly exercise are the powers it is freely given by the consent of the citizens.

Can you see how the Founder's logic limits government? The Laws of Nature and of Nature's God justified the Founders in rejecting the age-old principle by which man was not only governed but also enslaved - the rule of the jungle that "might makes right." "Government," wrote George Washington, "is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force." Whatever else a government may do, the bottom line is that it can compel citizens to do things - pay taxes, go to prison, or surrender their property - by the use of force.

But, if the government derives its just powers from the consent of the citizens, then the government can acquire no greater right to use force than the citizens themselves possess. The government can command an army or a police force, and thereby bring more force to bear than an individual citizen could, but the government's right to use this greater amount of force comes simply from the fact that it acts with the moral authority of the entire society. The government's right to use force is directly linked to, and limited by, the right to use force that citizens themselves possess. If I don't have the right to injure my neighbor or take his property, then my government does not have that right either, because my government cannot claim to have acquired from me a power that is not mine to give. Thus, through the Declaration, the Founders asserted that the rules that governed the relationship between a free government and its citizens - that determined when the government could compel the actions of citizens by the use of force - were the same rules that governed the relationships between citizens. And these rules, they said, are the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God.

What's more, the Founders said that the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God gave people the right to change their government: "[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends [protecting the rights of the citizens], it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it . . . ." The right of the people to "alter or abolish" a government that violates their rights comes from the fact that, if the government is violating man's God-given rights, it must be violating God's laws, and man's first duty is always to obey God's law. It is, as Blackstone said, "superior in obligation to any other." Thus, our Founding Fathers could submit the case for independence to the judgment of the world because, as Blackstone said, "[t]his law of nature . . . is binding over all the globe in all countries, and at all time: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original."

Question: Can you complete the following sentence? The Declaration says that the rules that govern the relationship between a government and its citizens - the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God - are the same rules that govern the relationship between the ___________ themselves.

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