Monday, September 23, 2013

First Principles

Leading Journal of the Enlightenment 


The Enlightenment concepts of first principles and natural rights were important to the Founders. They served as the basis for the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and many founding state constitutions and declarations. 














Interestingly, the 9th and 10th Amendments are imbued with the Founding Principles, oftentimes called First Principles. The amendments read:

9th The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

10th 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.

Forty-nine words. That’s all it took for the First Congress to articulate these founding principles:
  
  1. Rights naturally reside with people—rights are not bestowed by government
  2. Political power comes from the American people—the government has no claim to any power without prior and formal delegation by Americans.
  3. Powers are to be dispersed, and balanced between different branches and levels of government.
  4. The Constitution is a written agreement intended to restrict government.


When Congress composed a Bill of Rights, they used two of the ten amendments to remind the government that certain principles were intrinsic to the document. 

Here is what the Founders and a couple modern presidents had to say about First Principles:

“In disquisitions of every kind there are certain primary truths, or first principles, upon which all subsequent reasoning must depend.” Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 31

“What is a Constitution? It is the form of government, delineated by the mighty hand of the people, in which certain first principles of fundamental law are established. The Constitution is certain and fixed; it contains the permanent will of the people, and is the supreme law of the land…and can be revoked or altered only by the authority that made it.” William Paterson, Constitutional Convention delegate and author of New Jersey Plan

“On the distinctive principles of the government ... of the United States, the best guides are to be found in 1. The Declaration of Independence ... 2. “The Federalist” ... 3. The Resolutions of the General Assembly of Virginia in 1799 on the subject of the alien and sedition laws ... 4. The valedictory address of President Washington.” —James Madison, University of Virginia, 1834

“It is, indeed, of little consequence who governs us, if they sincerely and zealously cherish the principles of union and republicanism.” Thomas Jefferson

“The deterioration of a government begins almost always by a decay of its principles.” Montesquieu

“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

“We’ve gone astray from first principles.” Ronald Reagan

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