SEPTEMBER 16: OVERVIEW
On September 16, Patriot Week recognizes the First Principle of unalienable rights.
We also recognize the great Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, who made that First Principle come alive in America. In addition, we recognize the Bill of Rights, as well as the Gadsden (Don’t Tread on Me) Flag.
FIRST PRINCIPLE: UNALIENABLE RIGHTS
The Declaration of Independence proclaims as a self-evident truth the First Principle that “all men are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Thomas Jefferson explained the essence of the Founding Fathers understanding regarding the First Principle of unalienable rights when he wrote that “a free people claims their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as a gift from their chief magistrate.”
In other words, a basic maxim of American government is the recognition that some rights derived from Nature may not be taken or violated by the government.
This First Principle turned topsy-turvy the prior understanding of authority and rights. Putting aside a few ancient democracies and republics, Kings and nobility historically were the origin of authority, and they granted rights and privileges to their subjects. The people did not possess rights - only privileges - and they were dependent upon the pleasure of the rulers.
Nevertheless, America boldly proclaimed at its birth that some rights were endowed by man’s very nature – and that individuals are incapable of relinquishing them. Because these rights are endowed in people from Nature’s God, they are inherent in each individual and cannot be abandoned – in other words, such rights are unalienable.
Hence, “the sacred rights of mankind,” Alexander Hamilton observed, “are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”
The recognition and protection of unalienable rights is a centerpiece of America.
THE BILL OF RIGHTS
Drafted by James Madison, and ratified by the United States Congress and the states as the first ten Amendments to the United States Constitution, effective as of December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights expressly protects many of our unalienable rights. The Bill of Rights specifically provides:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
FOUNDING FATHER THOMAS JEFFERSON
Born on April 13, 1743 in Albemarle County, Virginia, he was a major plantation owner, lawyer, scientist, writer, and inventor. Jefferson became a leading voice for American independence when he wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774).
As a delegate at the Second Continental Congress, he was assigned to draft the Declaration of Independence. John Adams explained to Jefferson why: “Reason first – You are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second – I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third – You can write ten times better than I can.”
Throughout his life, Jefferson was perhaps the most eloquent defender of America’s First Principles. For example, he explained the essence of the Founders’ understanding of unalienable rights: “a free people claims their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as a gift from their chief magistrate.” Jefferson deeply believed in understanding and adhering to our First Principles as this passage from a letter to Samuel Kercheval (1816) reveals:
Only lay down true principles, and adhere to them inflexibly. Do not be frightened into their surrender by the alarms of the timid, or the croakings of wealth against the ascendancy of the people...
A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of the society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sin and suffering.
Jefferson became war-time Governor of Virginia, and succeeded Benjamin Franklin as minister to France in 1785. While in Europe, James Madison worked to ensure that Jefferson’s proposed Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom became law – creating a separation of church and state in Virginia. The Statute was the basis for the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
Jefferson was later tapped by George Washington to become the nation’s first Secretary of State.
Narrowly losing election in 1796 to Adams, he became the nation’s third Vice-President.
When he defeated Adams in a rematch, he became President – in what he dubbed the “Revolution of 1800.”
Jefferson retired to Monticello after two tumultuous terms as President, and founded the University of Virginia.
In their later years, Adams and Jefferson reconciled and enjoyed a famous, years’ long correspondence. Adams and Jefferson both passed away on July 4, 1826 – 50 years to the day of the Declaration of Independence.
GADSDEN (DON’T TREAD ON ME) FLAG
This flag from the American Revolution has a storied and beloved history. The first recorded use of a field of yellow with a coiled rattlesnake and the motto “Dont Tread on Me” was on the drums of America’s first marines in the Fall of 1775.
Colonel Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina was a member of Congress, and he was a member of the committee in charge of the marines’ first naval mission. Gadsden gave a flag mimicking the marines’ drums to Commodore Esek Hopkins as Hopkins’s personal standard.
Whether Gadsden originally made the design for the marines (or whether he was inspired by their design) has been lost to history. However, Gadsden was personally responsible for making it a rallying symbol for Americans everywhere. The Gadsden Flag continues to stir the imagination and embodies the spirit of America.
Learn more about America and Patriot Week, and renew the American Spirit, visit www.PatriotWeek.org, Facebook, Twitter, or contact Judge Michael Warren at firstname.lastname@example.org.