Tim Flaherty: Words mean something, or at least they should. Perhaps no words have ever meant more than those immortalized in Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence.
Words mean something, or at least they should. Perhaps no words have ever meant more than those immortalized in Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence.
Lincoln had a mere 17 days to craft one of the shortest - 10 sentences - and greatest speeches in American history where he invoked the principles of human equality espoused in the Declaration of Independence. Interestingly, it also took Jefferson 17 days to write his masterpiece. Holed up in his rented room, Jefferson agonized day and night to put into words ideas that would alter the course of his countrymen and that of the entire world.
Why were those few words so difficult to come by? Approximately two-thirds of the Declaration contained his long list of grievances against the king of England. But that required little time and effort, as Jefferson needed only to copy from his own draft he had previously written for the Virginia Constitution. Therefore, the bulk of those 17 days was devoted to composing the first two paragraphs - nine sentences - with words that would charter an inspired constitution and give birth to a new nation.
Generally, most Americans are quite familiar with some of those words: all men are created equal; endowed by their Creator; unalienable rights; and self-evident truths. However, appearing in the very first sentence is a three-word phrase that often gets glossed over: laws of nature. If words mean something, and if they were so difficult to compose, then to what is Jefferson and his laws of nature referring? The laws of gravity? The laws of thermodynamics?
Unlike today, in Colonial America "laws of nature" was a familiar and common phrase. Then, it meant "the will of God" as revealed to man in the holy Bible. Whereas the colonists had previously relied upon the British Constitution, their rights as Englishmen, and those early charters and compacts as their legal basis to govern, they now turned to the biblical God for their legal justification.
Sir William Blackstone, whose political writings provided the blueprint for the new U.S. Constitution, wrote, "Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these."
Do not suppose that Jefferson surreptitiously slipped this phrase unnoticed by the delegates of the Continental Congress. John Adams affirmed that the laws of nature was one of two points over which they labored and debated the most. The founders, via the Declaration, made a conscious decision to not only separate themselves from Great Britain but to create a legal framework built upon a biblical-historical foundation. This framework, declared John Quincy Adams, was the "highest glory of the American Revolution ... From the day of the Declaration ... they (the American people) were bound by the laws of God ... and by the laws of The Gospel, which they ... acknowledged as the rules of their conduct."
The vast sea of Colonial political writing, including the early state constitutions, clearly demonstrates the acceptance and inclusion of God within the framework of government and its laws.
You might not believe in God nor in his revealed mind and will in the holy Bible, or you might be a believer who just doesn't hold that God belongs in American jurisprudence. That's fine - you're entitled to your philosophical preferences and political assumptions.
I presume otherwise, but the laws of nature reference wasn't my idea. The assumption was made by a host of historical political writers from Cicero to Blackstone, Charles de Secondat Montesquieu, John Locke and, more importantly, the American founders.
To remove God and all biblical principles from the Constitution and from our laws is to effectively and fatally undermine that very Constitution. Clever arguments today cannot make Jefferson's words go away; they really do mean something.
Tim Flaherty is a resident of Gilbert.