As we hear much of the inalienable rights of man, and the Declaration of Independence, it must be regarded that these two phenomena did not show up simultaneously. The Declaration of Independence, itself has roots going back into history and is a culminating document of the rights of individuals, the rights of the state and how the rights of individuals are primary to them, while the rights of the state derive from them. Samuel Adams would have an article published in 1769 and again in 1772 to look at such rights (italics in the original, bold is mine) in an untitled document (Source: Learning American History):
At the revolution, the British constitution was again restor'd to its original principles, declared in the bill of rights; which was afterwards pass'd into a law, and stands as a bulwark to the natural rights of subjects. "To vindicate these rights, says Mr. Blackstone, when actually violated or attack'd, the subjects of England are entitled first to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law—next to the right of petitioning the King and parliament for redress of grievances-and lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence." These he calls "auxiliary subordinate rights, which serve principally as barriers to protect and maintain inviolate the three great and primary rights of personal security, personal liberty and private property": And that of having arms for their defence he tells us is "a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression."
The British constitution is not a singular document, but a series of views giving Parliament primary power in law making, and affording rights under the various laws added in as-needed. With the Magna Carta also goes: Habeas Corpus Act 1679, Bill of Rights for England and Wales 1689, Claim of Right for Scotland 1689, Act of Settlement 1701, Act of Union 1707 which creates Great Britain. After the abrogation of rights under the Magna Carta by Charles I, and the resultant Acts passed after Cromwell's republic during the Restoration, the rights of individuals were more defined and put in as a matter of law. Thus rights are gained by law, not presumed to pre-exist and then law being applied to them to regulate them.
The Declaration would change some of the wording on the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and in the US Constitution the stronger views on the inviolability of person and property would be established to be without question save as under due process of law. The right to bear arms is seen not only as a public allowance under the English system, but it goes directly with the natural right of resistance and self preservation, when law is not enough to keep violence of oppression in restraint. Note that these two things are each combined, so that it is not only the violence of oppression from government against society, but also the violence of oppression by other individuals who are insufficiently restrained by law. The individual's right to be armed and counter these things, while having due restrictions, must not be so restrained as to remove them. That is a worry in the English system as Parliament decides on rights via law, so preventing laws that would go against those rights is paramount and the only way to back that up is to be armed.
The Amendment II language on a 'well regulated militia' is in accord with this, and every individual must be able to arm themselves for the defense of self and society under due restrictions by law. Banning weapons is a violation of the right to protect oneself from those actors that will not abide by law or that will use law to oppress individuals or society. Adams then goes on to follow up that view with this (I will use some editing for readability, but leave his text 'as-is' as he now uses both italics and bolding):
-How little do those persons attend to the rights of the constitution, if they know anything about them, who find fault with a late vote of this town, calling upon the inhabitants to provide themselves with arms for their defence at any time; but more especially, when they had reason to fear, there would be a necessity of the means of self preservation against the violence of oppression.
-Every one knows that the exercise of the military power is forever dangerous to civil rights; and we have had recent instances of violences that have been offer'd to private subjects, and the last week, even to a magistrate in the execution of his office!
- Such violences are no more than might have been expected from military troops: A power, which is apt enough at all times to take a wanton lead, even when in the midst of civil society; but more especially so, when they are led to believe that they are become necessary, to awe a spirit of rebellion, and preserve peace and good order. But there are some persons, who would, if possibly they could, perswade the people never to make use of their constitutional rights or terrify them from doing it. No wonder that a resolution of this town to keep arms for its own defence, should be represented as having at bottom a secret intention to oppose the landing of the King's troops: when those very persons, who gave it this colouring, had before represented the people petitioning their Sovereign, as proceeding from a factious and rebellious spirit; and would now insinuate that there is an impropriety in their addressing even a plantation Governor upon public business-Such are the times we are fallen into!
Here is one of those great times in history when an individual now calls attention that the civil right to bear arms is far, far better than military troops. As put forward, military troops are a means of oppression against those having grievances against a sovereign, and yet the natural right of resistance via arms is not only legitimate but necessary for a free people to claim their rights under law. This is oppression at its heart: the ability of the State to cow or overawe or threaten individuals that society, itself, is put under threat from tyrannical rule. Without arms one cannot have civil society nor accountability of the State. To those who would like to give the State the power and capability to ban weapons: you would not have had the American Revolution with that outlook.
Sam Adams would re-iterate these things in his listing of Rights of the Colonists and he would use language drawn not only from Blackstone, but other sources as well (bolding mine, throughout):
Among the Natural Rights of the Colonists are these First. a Right to Life; Secondly to Liberty; thirdly to Property; together with the Right to support and defend them in the best manner they can-Those are evident Branches of, rather than deductions from the Duty of Self Preservation, commonly called the first Law of Nature
Life, liberty, property and the ability to defend them in the best manner possible. Another line from the Declaration would show up from Sam Adams:
All Men have a Right to remain in a State of Nature as long as they please: And in case of intollerable Oppression, Civil or Religious, to leave the Society they belong to, and enter into another.
When Men enter into Society, it is by voluntary consent; and they have a right to demand and insist upon the performance of such conditions, And previous limitations as form an equitable original compact.
A primary right of humans is the right to associate with each other and bring about, voluntarily, society. That society is then safeguarded via a compact, design, or other such statement of what that society is and will do. This is not a right bestowed by government or States, but is an inviolable right of individuals to do this thing. So many gloss over this in the reading of the Declaration of Independence, but the concept is primary for all of mankind: you have the right to form society, set its limits and then discriminate based on those limits set by mutual agreement within society. If you do not like that society and cannot convince your fellow man to change it, you can dissolve that voluntarily made association and go elsewhere and associate with others more to your liking.
In case it has been missed in all the grand splendor of those talking about 'classical liberalism' this is the foundation of that: the right to tell folks that they must adjust to society and its laws. A society does not have to accept those that will not accede to that and the laws may be used in those circumstances. That is voluntary consent between individuals and society and is reciprocal.
Then comes an idea that would be the guiding light of the US Constitution and re-stated in two Amendments:
Every natural Right not expressly given up or from the nature of a Social Compact necessarily ceded remains.
This is a key part of the Constitutional outlook restated in Amendments IX and X, so that the People and States retain all rights not given to the National government. For the Constitution to have a reasoning behind it, this is its underpinning: the People give government very few things to do and very few rights and retain all other rights and responsibilities at a lower level.
So far we have: life, liberty, property, arms to support those three, self-preservation, to live in a natural state of being, to form societies, to defend societies, to leave societies, to recognize mutual consent about forming, defending and leaving societies, to have equal enforcement of the social compact, and to retain all of those rights not ceded of necessity by the social compact in the individual.
Now comes one that will be a surprise to those not paying attention to the founders:
As neither reason requires, nor religeon permits the contrary, every Man living in or out of a state of civil society, has a right peaceably and quietly to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience.
You do have the right to peaceably worship God to your own views inside or outside of civil society. That is an individual right supported by society and comes from the views of Westphalia and from the developed views of the English Common Law over time as Henry VIII had made some definite inroads on it, and by the time of Charles I it had become a sticking point. This is given over to the individual, not the State to choose for individuals. A State may have a religious view, may promulgate holidays, may do many things, save force you to worship as the State dictates. Iraq may have a 'Muslim state' but it is also figuring out how to accommodate both major groups within Islam, a host of sects within those major groups, and then many others like the Yezidis, Syriac Christians, Followers of John the Baptist...quite an interesting thing to see a Muslim country make Christmas a National Holiday.
He then goes on in a more lengthy portion to put in God's place in the law, and then how reasonable men should approach religious differences:
"Just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty" in matters spiritual and temporal, is a thing that all Men are clearly entitled to, by the eternal and immutable laws of God and nature, as well as by the law of Nations, & all well grounded municipal laws, which must have their foundation in the former.
In regard to Religeon, mutual tolleration in the different professions thereof, is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practiced; and both by precept and example inculcated on mankind: And it is now generally agreed among christians that this spirit of toleration in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society "is the chief characteristical mark of the true church"2 & In so much that Mr. Lock has asserted, and proved beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society. The only Sects which he thinks ought to be, and which by all wise laws are excluded from such toleration, are those who teach Doctrines subversive of the Civil Government under which they live. The Roman Catholicks or Papists are excluded by reason of such Doctrines as these "that Princes excommunicated may be deposed, and those they call Hereticks may be destroyed without mercy; besides their recognizing the Pope in so absolute a manner, in subversion of Government, by introducing as far as possible into the states, under whose protection they enjoy life, liberty and property, that solecism in politicks, Imperium in imperio3 leading directly to the worst anarchy and confusion, civil discord, war and blood shed-4
When I hear someone say they want religion as it was 'just at the founding as the founders saw it' may I politely say: You are nuts. Folks like Jefferson wouldn't even mince the words as nicely as Sam Adams... mind you Jefferson was not even Orthodox, being a Unitarian, and had some bright things to say about many Protestant sects, also. The reason they followed the Westphalian concept of not having the government inculcate religion, was that they were of various sects, beliefs and outlooks, and a very few had *none* and yet wanted a Nation of *reason* to come about. Adams, Jefferson, and the rest were more than prepared to share a Nation with those they disagreed with on religion, so long as religion was kept out of what was pressed upon them all by common government. Apparently Christianity was something that had multiple different viewpoints, with some very harsh feelings between the various branches and sects.
The founders were wise to hold secular government in common and, while giving an overlook across all Christianity with 'In God We Trust' and other forms of recognition, they wanted no part in actually telling people which sect, group, or cult was actually vested in those words. We do, indeed, trust in that higher power, but heaven help you if you try to push your version of it on others. The Peace of Westphalia and the moves by Henry VIII prior to the 30 Years War all set the stage to try and step away from wars that would see a disturbingly large number of believers *dead* because they fought for their branch of Christianity under the Prince of Peace. That had *not* died down by the founding and the last thing anyone wanted to do was to put in-place the very same sorts of laws that had forced the Puritans and others to leave their homes in the Old World because they could not get equality under the law for their religious views. Apparently I remember a different and diverse set of founders that agreed upon common government to be held apart from religion and only give some obeisance to a generalized societal view of it. As society held no singular view of even Christianity in common, the idea to leave what you believed up to the individual was one that was pressed forward, just as it was in Westphalia so that States with that agreement would *not* practice religious persecution. It didn't stop them, of course, but the slow seeping of that wisdom into how we viewed Nations has changed history.
From there one moves to Sam Adams' views on natural liberty:
The natural liberty of Men by entring into society is abridg'd or restrained so far only as is necessary for the Great end of Society the best good of the whole
In the state of nature, every man is under God, Judge and sole Judge, of his own rights and the injuries done him: By entering into society, he agrees to an Arbiter or indifferent Judge between him and his neighbours; but he no more renounces his original right, than by taking a cause out of the ordinary course of law, and leaving the decision to referees or indifferent Arbitrations. In the last case he must pay the Referees for time and trouble; he should be also willing to pay his Just quota for the support of government, the law and constitution; the end of which is to furnish indifferent and impartial Judges in all cases that may happen, whether civil ecclesiastical, marine or military.
Hmmm... 'The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few'! Lovely how Star Trek tries to address these things. Yes, that firm and fundamental right to associate and create society comes with it a burden to each and every member to then support that society. If one lived solely by their own hands and with no interaction with any others, ever, then living in a state of nature each man is judge of his actions and his rights with no other to intervene. By being in society and having the benefits of society, one incurs the obligation to support society in its means and methods under law. Thus to gain the rights previously mentioned within a society, one needs to support that society as a whole, enter into it voluntarily and understand that the cost of supporting all of it, even if you vehemently disagree with a small subsection of it, must be done. If your conscience moves you from that ability to support due to a small section you disagree with, you are breaking your societal compact and setting your beliefs higher than those of the society around you.
In our modern day we get a segment of society that wishes to push their views upon the whole of society via government, have the ability to complain and protest and give non-support to those areas they dislike which *are* held in common, while claiming that everyone *else* needs to support their views on things they want government to do that are not agreed upon by the whole or even majority of society. Via the Sam Adams view you do have the right to such civil views so long as you support the entirety of the burden placed upon you, even for those things you do not like. To do otherwise is to set oneself up under the law of nature as above society and dictating one's own beliefs to society while refusing to support it. This is why those who want to 'protest' by withholding their taxes have a difficult time getting traction: they have abdicated their responsibility to the entirety of society for the minority of their views. So long as you support the whole, then it is civil discourse to talk about one's problems and differences with what is going on. The moment that greater support stops, or you wish to pick and choose your obligations outside of what your personal religious beliefs tell you for *yourself*, then one acts in an authoritarian manner putting themselves up as judge and arbiter for society for their views. By placing yourself in that 'morally higher position' you have simultaneously isolated yourself from society to dictate to it your wishes. That normally gets shunning, not an audience.
The kicker is: you may even be *right*.
You chose the exact, wrong means to state your disagreements.
Of final note on this passage is that Sam Adams understands the different provinces of the law: civil, ecclesiastical, marine, military. This is fascinating, not for the ecclesiastical mention which is an individual's choice to subject themselves to such law, but for the marine choice. This is the commonly held Admiralty laws, that go along with the high and near seas, and the commerce it engenders. At this point the English law is already a few centuries from The Black Book of the Admiralty, and marine or maritime law has gone through a few iterations on an international scale in France, Spain, Netherlands, Britain, and elsewhere. While we, today, think of this as a minor jurisdiction for contract law, it is still a view that governs trade, commerce, and the sovereignty of a ship at sea to be a part of its Nation until out of the reaches of the sea (which is a direct access affair for the US, requiring the passing of headlands for local law to take hold outside of traffic restrictions and such for common navigation). It is difficult to determine if the listing of these laws are precedential (that is with the earliest being most important) or equality in different provinces, which I think is what he is getting across, which gives each of these its own separate views that can overlap, but only do so when the type of law is crossed. Something like Piracy, depending upon maritime law, also has civil and military views to it and those differences remain with us to this day, based on activity and what is being done (ex. an attack by a Pirate is a military attack, a capture of a Pirate by civil authorities is a civil action, and the predation of commerce is a maritime action which relates to both the civil and military laws).
After that there is a section that will definitely make a few people pause:
"The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man; but only to have the law of nature for his rule."
In the state of nature men may as the Patriarchs did, employ hired servants for the defence of their lives, liberty and property: and they should them reasonable wages. Government was instituted for the purposed of common defence; and those who hold the reins of government have an equitable natural right to an honourable support from the same principle "that the labourer is worth of his hire: but then the same community which they serve, ought to be assessors of their pay: Governors have no right to seek what they please; by this, instead of being content with the station assigned them, that of honourable servants of the society, they would soon become Absolute masters, Despots, and Tyrants. Hence as a private man has a right to say, what wages he will give in his private affairs, so has a Community to determine what they will give and grant of their Substance, for the Administration of publick affairs. and in both cases more are ready generally to offer their Service at the proposed and stipulated price, than are able and willing to perform their duty.
In short it is the greatest absurdity to supposed it in the power of one or any number of men at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the mans of preserving those rights when the great end of civil government from the very nature of its institution is for the support, protection and defence of those very rights: the principal of which as is before observed, are life liberty and property. If men through fear, fraud or mistake, should in terms renounce and give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the great end of society, would absolutely vacate such renunciation; the right of freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of Man to alienate this gift, and voluntarily become a slave-
Yes, do indeed be wary of those wanting government to do things for you: they are not seeking good ends, but the concentration of power to government and the governors. That is especially true when cloaked in the words of giving succor to the poor - society does have an obligation to the poor and charity is best done by those interested in giving it, not those forced to work at it. When one starts to see the government as the source of that which is good and the source of rights, then one begins to alienate themselves from that gift of freedom. The gift itself, as the Declaration would put it, is self-evident and inalienable.
But only so long as you remember that it is you that are the source of good in society and abide by those things society asks to support it.
Beware those that tell you all the good things government can do for you.
They seek your poverty.
And your submission to them and to government.
That soon gets you back to that right to self-defense against oppression as government can at best only be impartial judge, and never the source of your rights. Forget these things and one is well on the path to putting fetters on themselves and their fellow man by empowering government and forgetting their duty to society as a whole. To utilize one rights incurs an obligation in society to one's conscience and beliefs... and government is very, very poor at handling either.