(Don’t be left behind! To follow the study from the beginning, check out Setting the Scene.)
Marcus Tullius Cicero (from wikipedia.org)
To start our examination of the first principle shared by the Founding Fathers, we’re going to step back through time and look at the writings of one of their favorite authors – Cicero.
Cicero lived in ancient Rome from 106 – 43 B.C., where he studied law and philosophy and eventually became Roman Consul. To give you an idea of the time period in which Cicero belongs – you’re probably familiar with Julius Caesar, right? Named himself dictator for life; assassinated by Senators on the Ides of March; “Et tu, Brute?” (according to Shakespeare, anyway). Well, Cicero was assassinated a year later by a member of the ruling triumvirate that took over after Caesar was killed.
Cicero wrote two “landmark” books – Republic and Laws – based out of his experience in politics and his study of many political systems. His conclusion were that men must strive to eliminate the depravity of society, and the best (the only) way to do this is to follow the mandates of their Creator.
The “mandates of their Creator” is natural law. It is the principle that man shares with his Creator the power to reason, the ability to use a rational approach to solve problems. This reasoning ability allows man to reach common-sense conclusions based on the laws of nature. The laws of nature are the laws of God, since He created all things. Cicero asserts the following:
- natural law cannot be granted or taken away by a government; it is part of the order of the universe as God made it
- natural law cannot be changed; it is the same now as it was in the past or as it will be in the future
- natural law is basic and comprehensible; it is understandable in the same way that physical laws like gravity are understandable
- natural law is correct and morally right; it is based on the precepts of God’s law
Now, everyone wants justice, right? How do you provide justice from a human being’s point of view? Your idea of justice might not match mine. Whose is the right view? Cicero felt that justice is impossible, except under the principles of God’s law. A just society is based on love – love of God, love of God’s law, and love of your fellow human beings. He wrote, “For these virtues originate in our natural inclination to love our fellow-men, and this is the foundation of justice.”
All this seems very emotional and abstract, doesn’t it? Love, love, love. But you might be surprised to find out how many basic Constitutional concepts -- on which our freedoms are based -- stem from natural law.
- unalienable rights (free speech, privacy, a fair trial, etc.)
- unalienable duties (to not steal, uphold contracts, etc.)
- habeas corpus
- limited government
- separation of powers
- checks and balances
- protection of the family and the institution of marriage
- justice by reparation
- the right to bear arms
- no taxation without representation
Remember these lines from the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson? “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” These ideals are based on the foundation of natural law.
This first principle of the Founding Fathers is the basis for the system of government they were crafting. It is crucial to establish the theory of natural law as the starting point, for the framework of our freedoms rests on its solid foundation.
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