Thursday, July 3, 2014

America's First Principles -- Our Founding Principles

Dear Friends,

Have you ever wondered what makes America unique in comparison to other nations? Well, it is our Founding Principles, America's First Principles.
When America’s Founding Fathers undertook the task of writing the United States Constitution, they wanted to establish a "novus ordo seclorum" which means "a new order of the ages." 

The phrase is sometimes falsely translated as a "New World Order" by people who believe in a conspiracy behind the design. But they are wrong. In fact, the origin of the phrase and its meaning is a reference to the fourth Eclogue of Virgil. Yes, a poem.

Medieval Christians read Virgil's poem as a prophecy of the coming of Christ. Written in the Augustan Age, although pre-Christian, it was viewed as a golden age preparing the world for the coming of Christ. The great poets of that age were viewed as a source of revelation and light for the Christian mysteries to come.

The word seclorum does not mean "secular" as one might assume, but is the genitive (possessive) plural form of the word saeculum, meaning (in this context) generation, century, or age. Saeculum did come to mean "age, world" in Christian Latin. And yes, the term "secular" is derived from it through the term "secularis." The adjective "secularis," meaning "worldly," is not equivalent to the genitive plural "seclorum" which means "of the ages." Because of this, the motto "novus ordo seclorum" should be translated as "A new order of the ages."

It was proposed by Charles Thomson, a Christian Latin expert who was involved in the design of the Great Seal of the United States. He used this phrase to signify "the beginning of the new American Era" which our Founding Fathers saw as starting when the Declaration of Independence was signed.

What they wanted is what we should all want. They wanted a new order where free people can determine their own destiny without the hindrances, restrictions, penalties, and threats by an oppressive government. The "new order" that they envisioned was a world where all mankind is free of the shackles of previous eras.

Their idea of a new order, where all are free from oppression, can be found in the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence -- the foundation upon which our Constitution would be built.

The proposition that "all men are created equal" was a wholly new idea. Especially for a legitimate government in the history of man, and the same applies to declare "rights" as "inalienable."

Those rights being "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," meant that an objective standard of justice was to forever guide our experiment in self-government. We did not need a King, a Queen, a Dictator, or some all powerful committee such as in a Communist/Socialist state to tell us how to live.

Equality was the foundation for our government. While others in the world at the time did not see how a legitimate government could not have a Monarch or some sort of supreme ruler, Americans saw things differently.

We saw the world as a place where a free people did not need a government to give us consent. We saw a world where no one should make claim to rule. And yes, there is a vast difference between "rule" and "govern".

Slaves are rules, while free people have a government that governs the affairs of state and not fellow countrymen. All are equal in their rights.

These founding principles implied a certain kind of relationship between "rulers" and "ruled," thus providing the justification for the complaints against the King of England. The founding principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence served, and really still continues to serve today, in the words of Thomas Paine: "as an expression of the American mind."

So when people say we are not a Christian nation, explain to them that we were founded on Christian values. Our founding principles prove that. Below are the founding principles which our government was built upon.

America's First Principles -- Part One

Individual Liberty

The principle that each person is born with freedom from arbitrary or unjustified restraint.

"Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood." – John Adams, 1765

"Without liberty, law loses its nature and its name, and becomes oppression. Without law, liberty also loses its nature and its name, and becomes licentiousness." – James Wilson, Of the Study of the Law in the United States, 1790

"In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example ... of charters of power granted by liberty. This revolution in the practice of the world, may, with an honest praise, be pronounced the most triumphant epoch of its history, and the most consoling presage of its happiness." – James Madison, Essays for the National Gazette, 1792


A system of dual sovereignty. The people delegate certain powers to the national government, while the states and the people retain those powers not delegated.

"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite." – James Madison, Federalist 45, 1788

"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." – Tenth Amendment, 1791

"I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground that ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people.’ To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, not longer susceptible of any definition." – Thomas Jefferson, Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank, 1791

Limited Government:

The philosophy that the government only has those powers given to it in the Constitution and no more than that.

If a power is not listed, the government does not have it. If not specifically stated in the Constitution, it does not exist.

"The general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws: its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any." – James Madison, Federalist 14, 1787

"It will not be denied that power is of an encroaching nature and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it." – James Madison, Federalist 48, 1787

"I own I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive." – Thomas Jefferson, Letter to James Madison, 1787

"The propriety of a law, in a constitutional light, must always be determined by the nature of the powers upon which it is founded." – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 33, 1788

Representative Government:

A republican system where the people select representatives to represent their interests as they make and carry out laws.

"As good government is an empire of laws, how shall your laws be made? In a large society, inhabiting an extensive country, it is impossible that the whole should assemble to make laws. The first necessary step, then, is to depute power from the many to a few of the most wise and good." – John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776

"Pure democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths." – James Madison, Federalist 10, 1787

"I have no fear that the result of our experiment will be that men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master." – Thomas Jefferson, Letter to David Hartley, 1787

"We may define a republic to be…a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior." – James Madison, Federalist 39, 1788

Private Property:

A system where individuals have the right to obtain and control possessions, as well as the fruits of their own labor.

"One of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s house. A man’s house is his castle." – James Otis, on the Writs of Assistance, 1761

"The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence." – John Adams, A Defense of the American Constitutions, 1787

"Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own." – James Madison, Essay on Property, 1792

"As a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights." – James Madison

"A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned – this is the sum of good government." – Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 1801


The understanding that there is no natural class of rulers among people, and that all citizens are born with the same unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

"The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy." – Benjamin Franklin, Emblematical Representations, 1774

"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." – Declaration of Independence, 1776

"I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery." – George Washington, Letter to Robert Morris, 1786

"It is much to be wished that slavery may be abolished. The honour of the States, as well as justice and humanity, in my opinion, loudly call upon them to emancipate these unhappy people. To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused." – John Jay, Letter to R. Lushington, 1786

Separation of Powers/Checks and Balances:

A system of distinct powers built into the constitution, to prevent an accumulation of power in one branch.

And yes, also in order to ensure each branch can stop the others from growing too powerful.

"An elective despotism was not the government we fought for; but one in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among the several bodies of magistracy as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others." – James Madison, Federalist 84, 1788

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." – James Madison, Federalist 47, 1788

"A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions." – James Madison, Federalist 51, 1788

"The principle of the Constitution is that of a separation of Legislative, Executive and Judiciary functions, except in cases specified. If this principle be not expressed in direct terms, it is clearly the spirit of the Constitution…" – Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, 1797

America's First Principles -- Part Two

How did we arrive at such principles of government?

Our Constitution, that which governs our government, has been built around the precepts of America’s First Principles. They, America's First Principles, are the foundation of American freedom and liberty.

While rejecting oppression, America’s Founding Fathers established the American republic on our First Principles to secure our freedom and liberty.

We are the first, perhaps the only nation that holds as self-evident truths that all men and women are created equal and are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights; and that "governments are instituted to protect those rights and derive their just powers from the consent of the governed."

The people rule the government! The government does not rule the people!

America's First Principles:

1) The rule of law is a First Principle that mandates that "the law governs everyone." It goes to the heart of our systems of government -- demanding that no man is above the law!"

2) Unalienable rights recognizes that "everyone is naturally endowed by their Creator with certain rights."

Rights come from God, not government.

3) Equality is recognized that "all persons are created equal."

4) The Social Compact recognizes that "governments are instituted by the people and derive their just powers from the consent of the governed."

All political power emanates from the people.

5)  Limited government means that the protection of unalienable rights is the legitimate purpose and limits government power.

It means that the government should be strong enough to fulfill its purpose, yet limited to that purpose and no more for fear of a monarchy or dictatorship.

We have a limited representative republic because the Founders believed in limited government in the form of a representative republic. The reason is that they distrusted a direct democracy, because they equated it to mob rule.

6) Private Property Rights - The Founders believed 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 of course is what they had fought eight bloody years to escape.

7)  The right to declare revolution! Yes, to revolt when the other First Principles are being infringed upon by the government is one of America's First Principles.

America's First Principles are what our nation was built upon.

Our Declaration of Independence explains how those foundational ideas were the philosophical basis of the American Revolution. Once independence was secured, the Founding Fathers labored to ensure that the Constitution of the United States became the living embodiment of a government based on America's First Principles.

At the Constitutional Convention, delegate William Paterson wrote, “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.”

America's First Principles are those values that enable us to live free with liberty.

And yes, that's just the way I see things.

Tom Correa

1 comment:

  1. Our founding principles really ARE America's founding principles.


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