However, we, as humans capable of using language, are able to understand abstract terms such as 'this' and 'that'. There is a fine line between not knowing the particular language-game one is using and not knowing the abstract terms that they are using. That is, not knowing the language-game will prohibit ourselves from understanding the language at all. Not knowing particular abstract terms will prohibit ourselves from understanding particular ideas. Thus, as W.V.O Quine states when considering the name 'Gavagai' and 'Rabbit' where 'Rabbit' is the translation of 'Gavagai', 'Gavagai' may refer to 'Rabbit', 'Rabbit parts', 'Rabbit fusion', or 'Rabbithood' (Word & Object, pg. 52). Quine's point here is that when we consider objects of perception there may be a translation, but even from perceptions we could possibly be wrong. We are forming a hypothesis from this simple act. However, when we move to abstract terms that are analytic (analytic refers to strictly logical/mathematical terms; the manipulation of a language that is concept-ridden that do not refer to objects like a 'Rabbit') translation becomes impossible. Why? Because, since words that can be tested experimentally are only possibly correct by grasping a basic idea and referring to the external world, analytic terms are constructions of the particular language itself! Hence, when we speak of natural rights in politics the phrase 'natural rights' will mean something different in different languages. It should seem evident that participants in the same language can, when translating analytic terms, form hypotheses due to the fact that we are correlating with social definitions. However, each individual invokes their own particular meanings with such terms or phrases, i.e., 'unalienable rights'
In this post I would like to examine the Declaration Of Independence and the philosophical implications of 'unalienable rights' and where such rights originate. Do they originate from God or the government? As mentioned above, historical problems arise when one era forces their own meanings of particular words onto another eras' same words, even though the meaning may differ. Furthermore, as was seen in earlier post Einstein's theory of relativity cannot be reduced to Newtonian classical mechanics. Even if they use the same words to describe similar problems in physics, they, for all intents and purposes, are speaking a different language-game. Thus, it can be postulated that different historical eras of the same language using the same signs (same letters, words, structure, etc.) are in fact different language-games. Another historical problem that exists is when we consider clusters of people. When looking at a document, such as the Declaration Of Independence that must be ratified, should we assume that for each ratifier each word, phrase, clause, etc. has the same meaning as that of another ratifier? It was noted earlier that individuals that speak the same language are participating in the same language-game so they can understand one another. However, with abstract terms, even though understood by others, each individual has their own separate logical premises and conclusions of the terms. That is, we all may speak of the 'unalienable rights' of freedom of religion, but some may claim that using tax-dollars to support your own religion does not violate such rights, whereas others may believe that the very fact of involving government as a structuring tool to encourage religion and distribute your tax dollars to your favorite preacher violates 'unalienable rights'. The final problem when considering historical events and documents is if we are considering the most important part of the event and document, or if we are giving more weight to certain passages than the participants did themselves.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.Several key terms throughout our country's history is highlighted - "Laws of Nature", "Nature's God", "Creator", "self-evident", and "unalienable rights." Furthermore, since it is postulated that our rights come from our Creator and that Governments are created by men to secure these rights it can be deduced that rights precede Governments so when an anarchic state is implemented Rights still remain. However, many problems arise. One is how are such rights discoverable? What happens if two individuals using the same way to recognize rights discover different rights? If, in a debate, two individuals present different rights and compromise can these rights be given by the Creator or by the government? The same may be said about the Creator? If two individuals believe in a different Creator does the Declaration Of Independence correspond to the same Creator? If not, how do we know the source of our rights and how can the Christian Right claim that the Creator is in fact the Christian God since a watered down concept of 'God' becomes meaningless.
When the Second Continental Congress (for a detailed look at the Declaration Of Independence click on the highlighted links, although I will return to this subject at a later date) approved the line "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" we are struck by the term 'self-evident'. 'Self-evident' (which is similar to Descartes' clear and distinct ideas) simply means that an idea does not need to be demonstrated, but it's truth is apparent simply by recognizing it. By the very fact that we have reason we are able to detect certain truths without going through the logical steps of premises to conclusion. What we need to focus on is whether or not unalienable rights are indeed self-evident truth or were they labeled as such for rhetorical purposes. That is, did unalienable rights need to be demonstrated and debated on through government practices because they were not clearly perceived to be self-evident.
I have repeatedly said that understanding historical problems is to avoid placing our values onto the era that we are analyzing. For instance, most people today understand that racism is wrong and that people who do not belong to the Caucasian race are equally intelligent and have the same abilities as Caucasians. Obviously those who drafted the constitution, those who belonged to the Confederates, and those who opposed the Civil Rights Act denied this inference. Even Jefferson, whose first draft of the Declaration Of Independence, slammed King George III for instituting the slave trade (although Jefferson was using propaganda and not truth so Congress struck this from the draft along with the reason that states depended and contributed to the slave trade [American Scripture, pg 146-147]) wrote in his Autobiography that Africans could not be assimilated in a Caucasian country, due to both hatred for their ex-masters and their deficient abilities to govern themselves. Furthermore, as seen in his Autobiography, Jefferson's reluctance to abolish slavery was because it was impractical (for more about his views about slavery view his Notes on the State of Virginia). Thus, if we state that all people are created equal, but others deny the fact that Africans were not even people in the same sense as Caucasians, then how can it be claimed that the self-evident truth that we are created equal? In another example, consider religious freedom. John Adams, who was part of the five man committee for drafting the Declaration Of Independence, was mainly responsible for the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution. Article III states:
As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality, and as these cannot be generally discussed through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of the public instructions in piety, religion, and morality: Therefore, To promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies-politic or religious societies to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.Also, the 1778 South Carolina Constitution Article XXXVIII (influenced by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney who attended the Constitutional Convention), in part, states:
That all persons and religious societies who acknowledge that there is one God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, and that God is publicly to be worshipped, shall be freely tolerated. The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State. That all denominations of Christian Protestants in this State, demeaning themselves peaceably and faithfully, shall enjoy equal religious and civil privileges. To accomplish this desirable purpose without injury to the religious property of those societies of Christians which are by law already incorporated for the purpose of religious worship, and to put it fully into the power of every other society of Christian Protestants, either already formed or hereafter to be formed, to obtain the like incorporation, it is hereby constituted, appointed, and declared that the respective societies of the Church of England that are already formed in this State for the purpose of religious worship shall still continue incorporate and hold the religious property now in their possession. And that whenever fifteen or more male persons, not under twenty-one years of age, professing the Christian Protestant religion, and agreeing to unite themselves In a society for the purposes of religious worship, they shall, (on complying with the terms hereinafter mentioned,) be, and be constituted a church, and be esteemed and regarded in law as of the established religion of the State, and on a petition to the legislature shall be entitled to be incorporated and to enjoy equal privileges. That every society of Christians so formed shall give themselves a name or denomination by which they shall be called and known in law, and all that associate with them for the purposes of worship shall be esteemed as belonging to the society so called. But that previous to the establishment and incorporation of the respective societies of every denomination as aforesaid, and in order to entitle them thereto, each society so petitioning shall have agreed to and subscribed in a book the following five articles, without which no agreement fir union of men upon presence of religion shall entitle them to be incorporated and esteemed as a church of the established religion of this State:
4th. That the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are of divine inspiration, and
are the rule of faith and practice
What both of these constitutions show is that the unalienable right for religious freedom is certainly limited. When conservatives (Newt Gingrich's Winning The Future: A 21st Century Contract with America, pg 50; Sean Hannity's Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism, pg 11) quote Adams on religion they assume that where he states that, "As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality...", Adams is talking about Christianity generally, but they would be wrong since religion, for Massachusetts, was synonymous with Protestantism since it is the duty of the legislature to maintain the piety, religion, and morality of Protestant teachers. It clearly singles out Catholics, Jews, etc. Even though South Carolina's Constitution states that Protestantism is the established church and that one must take certain oaths, Leonard Levy, in his book The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment (pg. 47-50) shows that the South Carolina was seen as permitted establishments instead of created establishments since it did not force one to pay taxes to support Protestantism. Furthermore, South Carolina defined what a church is (males who are 21 years or older and follow Protestantism).
That, as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to him; all persons, professing the Christian religion, are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty; wherefore no person ought by any law to be molested in his person or estate on account of his religious persuasion or profession, or for his religious practice; unless, under colour of religion, any man shall disturb the good order, peace or safety of the State, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others, in their natural, civil, or religious rights; nor ought any person to be compelled to frequent or maintain, or contribute, unless on contract, to maintain any particular place of worship, or any particular ministry; yet the Legislature may, in their discretion, lay a general and equal tax for the support of the Christian religion; leaving to each individual the power of appointing the payment over of the money, collected from him, to the support of any particular place of worship or minister, or for the benefit of the poor of his own denomination, or the poor in general of any particular county: but the churches, chapels, globes, and all other property now belonging to the church of England, ought to remain to the church of England forever. And all acts of Assembly, lately passed, for collecting monies for building or repairing particular churches or chapels of ease, shall continue in force, and be executed, unless the Legislature shall, by act, supersede or repeal the same: but no county court shall assess any quantity of tobacco, or sum of money, hereafter, on the application of any vestrymen or church-wardens; and every encumbent of the church of England, who hath remained in his parish, and performed his duty, shall be entitled to receive the provision and support established by the act, entitled "An act for the support of the clergy of the church of England, in this Province," till the November court of this present year to be held for the county in which his parish shall lie, or partly lie, or for such time as he hate remained in his parish, and performed his duty.Levy explains why Maryland simply uses 'Christian', "'Christian' rather than 'Protestantism' was used in Maryland because of the presence of a large Roman Catholic population, thus insuring non-preferential support of all churches existing in the state" (pg. 47). However, Article XXXV forces one who seeks to hold office to profess their belief in the Christian religion. Also, as seen above, the legislature may enforce a tax equal among all Christians.
What we can gather here is that all Massachusetts and Maryland allow the Legislature to enforce a tax even though Massachusetts limit the contributions to support Protestant churches, whereas Maryland did not discriminate among Christian sects. It is important, as one example, to note that South Carolina amended their constitution again in 1790 and Article VIII Section I reads as follows:
This is important in many respects. The one that I would like to make clear is that the 1790 Constitution eliminated the terms 'Christian' and 'Protestantism' and favored 'free exercise' and 'without discrimination or preference'. How can unalienable rights change over time? Better yet, how can two different people on the drafting committee, such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, agree to the phrase 'unalienable rights', but have different concepts to what that phrase means? As we saw above, Adams saw that preferential aid for Protestants did not violate the right of conscience. However, Thomas Jefferson saw it differently. In his bill The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom Jefferson in 1777 he writes,The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever hereafter be allowed within this State to all mankind: Provided, That the liberty of conscience thereby declared shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of this State.
Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.This bill was rejected by the Virginia Assembly. However, the fight for establishment and conflicting ideas of unalienable rights was confronted. In 1784, Patrick Henry introduced a bill entitled Bill Establishing a Provision for Teachers of Christian Religion. This bill did not discriminate between different sects of Christianity (even though Baptists and other minority sects feared what the implications could mean for them) and citizens of Virginia would be taxed where the money would go to the church or minister of their choice. What is interesting is that Richard Henry Lee, who did not want Jefferson's draft of the Declaration Of Independence to be edited by Congress (American Scripture, pg. 149-150) that did not invoke the term 'Creator' but did state that such rights are 'sacred' wrote, "avarice is accomplishing the destruction of religion for want of legal obligation to contribute something to its support." Hence, unalienable rights may be alienable if a politician feels that a particular program is needed to stabilize society. However, does this not assume that rights may be a gift from government and discoverable by logical steps since one must understand that the decline of religion will, in the future, lead to society's demise?
To confront this bill, James Madison wrote his Memorial And Remonstrance where he collected the signatures of those who favored separating religion and government and those who belonged to religious minority sects. The first argument that Madison presents focuses on 'unalienable rights':
Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man's right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.If we compare this to what is stated in the Declaration Of Independence ("We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"), then the 'Creator' is, as said earlier, outside the purview of Governments. That the government is to secure this right, not to endorse it or force one to believe that the Creator is of a particular religion or even exists because rights are "...unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men." Or better yet, as point (4) states:
Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered."Thus, even if one does not believe that the Creator exists because they are not yet convinced by the evidence their rights do not disappear. According to Madison, Jefferson, and the signers of the Remonstrance, Henry's bill was tyrannical (pointed out in  and ) and that, as seen in point (3), forcing individuals to contribute money to their preferred church or minister may lead to an establishment of a religion that they find repugnant. It is simple to see that the Constitutions listed above that today's conservatives claim to show that our Founding expressed unalienable rights as those that relied on Christianity are indeed tyrannical.
Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance prevented Henry's bill from passing when it was read to the Virginia Assembly and this allowed Madison to reintroduce Jefferson's bill since Jefferson was in France. Jefferson's bill passed easily and created religious liberty in Virginia.
It ought to be easy to see that Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance was an argument that had to be demonstrated. It was not clear to Henry that his own bill violated what Madison and Jefferson claimed to be an unalienable right. But how can this be so? If unalienable rights and tyrannical acts are self-evident, then they should be agreed upon by simply perceiving the concept. But that did not happen. Adams, Lee, Henry, and even George Washington did not perceive that forcing citizens to pay taxes to support particular sects or Christianity in general violated one's unalienable right of conscience, whereas Jefferson and Madison did see such a tax as a violation of one's rights. Hence, unalienable rights differ in theory between particular framers and these framers did accept the idea that to protect such rights they needed to debate what constitutes as a violation of rights. Jefferson and Madison saw that the governments after Independence could violate such rights (seen in the Remonstrances' point ) and that the people (Adams, Henry, etc) who were violating these rights saw themselves as protecting rights. In other words, a violation of rights to one group of people can be seen as securing rights to another group in order to stabilize society's ills. Hence, it is impossible to suggest that unalienable rights are self-evident and that government does not grant such rights because it is government, during debates, to argue what constitutes as an unalienable right and what is considered to be an unalienable right differs among groups of people!
What we can take from this is two things. One, the Declaration Of Independence certainly does not espouse one particular idea of what ought to be considered as an unalienable right. But the second point is even more crucial. If unalienable rights exist before governments are formed by the will of the people and that unalienable rights must be recognized by a rational being, then anything can be considered an unalienable right. This is where conservatives fail in their logic. Conservatives hold onto the idea that unalienable rights are not granted by a government, but they fail to recognize that unalienable rights have been debated through government procedures and that unalienable rights were different between different American state governments. Even the Bill Of Rights was debated. James Wilson of Pennsylvania (and Madison [under the heading of 'Enumerating Rights'] raised the same point as Wilson) noted:
But [the Bill Of Rights is] not only unnecessary, but on this occasion it was found impractical -- for who will be bold enough to undertake to enumerate all the rights of the people? And when the attempt to enumerate them is made, it must be remembered that if the enumeration is not complete, everything not expressly mention will be presumed to be purposely omitted."Thus, if governments do not grant unalienable rights, then I can hold that anything is an unalienable right. This is even implied in the ninth amendment! For example, I may believe the idea that healthcare is an unalienable right. I may believe that an unalienable right is a strict separation of religion and government. I may believe that natural resources belong to everyone and cannot belong to a particular corporation. I may believe that equal marriage is an unalienable right. I can make this claim because my own particular reason, as a gift from God, makes me perceive these as unalienable rights. Government cannot take these rights away or argue that these are not rights. However, another person may hold the exact opposite. This hypothetical person and myself may root these rights in a belief in God and not government. Thus, the government cannot debate this issue since the rights exist before government exists.
As we will see in a future post considering the Constitution the Bill Of Rights and the fact that unalienable rights have to be discussed, in its nature, creates ambiguity because such rights are part of a language-game. Alexander Hamilton saw this difficulty when writing in the Federalist Papers that we may be unsure how to define 'liberty of the press':
What signifies a declaration that "the liberty of the press shall be inviolably preserved?" What is the liberty of the press? Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitude for evasion? I hold it to be impracticable; and from this, I infer, that its security, whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution respecting it, must altogether depend on public opinion, and on the general spirit of the people and of the governmentThe above quote can be interpreted as justifying a more stricter case for separating religion and government since the ambiguity creates differing interpretations and that the certain ratifiers had different meanings of the first amendment than other ratifiers. Hence, an originalist interpretation is impossible!
In part two of the analysis of the Declaration Of Independence I will research how particular conservatives view the document and that their claims that liberalism violates the spirit of the document.