Monday, July 28, 2008

The Importance of Inherent Rights

After my assertion that we have inherent rather than constitutional rights, it seems only proper that I also expand on just why we would rather our rights be inherent. There are literally scores of examples across history of governments abusing the rights of their people. From communist Russia and China to Nazi Germany to ancient Rome. Indeed, one of the major reason for the American revolution was the direct violation of the Colonists' rights in the period between the end of the Seven Year War and the start of the American Revolution.
Yes, it started with taxes. The Seven Year War was the first war funded through deficit spending, and the British crown began to impose new taxes directly on the colonies to repay the deficits accrued in that conflict. It's important to understand that at this time, the American colonials were the freest people in the world. The British Empire was more than just a collection of colonized and conquered lands. It maintained the sea lanes, promoted free trade, and provided for all of its people the concept of certain constitutional rights. Many of these were carried over into the American constitution, including the right of habeas corpus, the right to keep arms, assembly, speech, trial by jury... Indeed, many of the rights we enjoy today were first openly practiced throughout the British Empire.
So why were the Colonists so upset over taxes? Mostly, it comes from an understanding of the Empire as held by the colonists. While the British parliament had the right to tax, they could not tax the colonists directly, but rather only through trade and only through general taxes. They could not target the colonies of America for particular taxes. Between 1765 and 1770, Parliament passed several laws to increase taxes specifically on America, and then continued by trying to force the colonies to purchase only those items through Britain so that the Colonists would have to pay the taxes.
Start to see why the Colonists would have problems with this? Not only are they being taxed by a body in which they have no representation, but this same body is doing everything they can to force the Colonists to pay those taxes. Civil unrest was the result.
And to crack down on civil unrest, the Crown and the Parliament passed more laws. Eventually, they would start to deny particular constitutional rights. Amongst these were... habeas corpus, trial by jury, assembly... and many many more. Some of the more audacious acts, to the American mind, was the setting of a foreign colony (Quebec) in governance over the American colonies, and forcing the quartering of troops in citizen's homes. It had been a long held tradition in England that King of England could not cross the threshold of the meanest house in England without the permission of the owner. But again, all of the rights the Americans held dear were constitutional, and not inherent. They were gifts of the royal crown, and thus could be taken away by the same.
And thus do we have Thomas Jefferson writing, '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,' (emphasis mine).
With such clear and beautiful language establishing the concept of the inherent right, and making clear that governments role is to ensure our rights, not to provide them, how can any of us believe the lie that is the 'constitutional' right?

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