Founding Principles

Everybody talks about Founding Principles—often called First Principles—but what are these bedrock values that formed the basis of the American Experiment. Five principles of government that were firmly held by all fifty-five delegates to the Constitutional Convention. These principles directed the design of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Rights come from God, not government

The framers didn't believe governments bestowed rights, nor were they an agent to protect rights—governments abridged rights.

All political power emanates from the people

The power of the people is declared in the first three words of the Constitution, “We the people …” This principle is also the underlying basis for our Declaration of Independence, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Limited representative republic

The framers believed that to protect against government oppression, they must disperse power, and give each branch of government formidable checks over the authority of every other branch. By the end of the Constitutional Convention, the Founders also came to firmly believe that the states must act as a solid check on the national government. Last, monarchies had general power, so they would give the national government only delineated powers.

Written Constitution

If government is a social contract, and it has only limited power formally delegated by the people, then the contract—Constitution—must be in writing. This American tradition went back to the Mayflower Compact. Our national heritage is a written constitution that sets the rules for governance between the people and their elected representative.

Private Property Rights

The Founders were influenced by Adam Smith, and were firm believers in private property rights. In their minds, private property rights were intertwined with liberty. True liberty would never allow the government to come at any time and take a person’s property. That would be Divine Right, which they had fought eight bloody years to escape.

The Constitutional Convention delegates didn't agree on everything. In fact, they possibly only agreed on these principles. After all, they did argue for four months about the design of the government.

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