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Laws of Nature’s God

The “harmonizing sentiments” of the 1760s and 1770s supported a natural law opposition to British tyranny in the American colonies. James Otis was one of the earliest articulators of natural law resistance. In 1764, he wrote, “Should an act of Parliament be against any of his natural laws, which are immutably true, their declaration would be contrary to eternal truth, equity, and justice, and consequently void.”

In 1774, Thomas Jefferson expressed the same sentiments in his Summary View of the Rights of British America. In the pamphlet, he wrote that God was the author of natural rights inherent in each human being. The Americans were “a free people claiming their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate… the God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”  –read more on this

Self-Evident Truths

Here are the truths Jefferson listed:

  • (1) all men are created equal,
  • (2) men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,
  • (3) among the rights that men have are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,
  • (4) governments are created to secure these unalienable rights,
  • (5) governments get their powers from the consent of the governed,
  • (6) when a form of government starts destroying people’s rights, the people have the right to alter or abolish it and create a new government.

Jefferson believed that his “truths” were “self-evident” (meaning that they were obvious and hard to disagree with) to educated, enlightened men like himself who had studied the works of John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, and others who disagreed with monarchists. (Monarchists believed that kings and queens had the right to rule over people because the kings and queens were chosen by God.) -read more on this