The Security of Unalienable Rights
The Declaration of Independence makes a profound statement about the role of civil government. Our founders came to view a civil government quite differently than the then philosophy of government in England where the king ruled people with a consolidation of powers. Because of different reforms such as the Magna Carta (1215), and the influence of men like Edward Coke and John Locke our founders saw the potential abuses in the “divine right of kings” philosophy. The architects of the American philosophy recognized the importance of certain individual rights that are connected to a person’s humanity, not granted by the government. Since the Creator is the giver of life, these rights come from the Creator, not from kings or other categories of civil rulers. With respect to these unalienable rights, our founders thought the civil government should be the protector of those rights rather than individuals being their own judge, jury, and executioner. Yet, the founders stated in the Declaration of Independence that it was the people who should choose those to whom they would entrust the duty to protect their unalienable rights.
“That to secure these rights,” is the phrase used in the Declaration of Independence to describe the civil government’s duty with respect to the unalienable gifts from the Creator, which are unalienable rights among men. “To secure” does not mean to define, limit, expand, or to eliminate. It means to protect, remove from danger, and make safe. To secure something presupposes it already preexists and who secures it is not the source of its existence. Thus, we see that certain rights are “unalienable” because they preexist civil government, having come from the Creator, not man.
To secure unalienable rights means to affirm these rights by passing laws and providing police protection. It also means to provide remedies to those who have been deprived of their unalienable rights. Without a method of enforcement and consequences for disobedience, a law is nothing more than a statement of moral value or advice. Our founders knew what “secure” meant and knew that the functions of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government were to focus on protecting and serving the people by securing their unalienable rights.
Even without a legal background, it is easy to understand that our laws against murder and other bodily injury, laws against theft, and laws against burglary are all there to protect unalienable rights. In England and in the early history of our country, these crimes were call “common law crimes” because everyone knew they were wrong as infringing upon the unalienable rights of another, but there was no criminal statute that declared them as crimes. Even though there was no statute saying that murder was wrong, a person could be convicted of common law murder because the evil of murder was common knowledge based upon the laws of nature. Today, we do not have any common law crimes because they all have been declared wrong by statute, but the purpose of laws against such crimes has not changed—they are there to secure the unalienable rights of individuals.