GED Social Studies Practice Test: Individual Rights – Natural Rights

Natural Rights Philosophy

The natural rights philosophy had a very large impact on the causes of the American Revolution and the United States Constitution that was later established. It was a philosophy developed by John Locke, a 17th Century (1600s) English Enlightenment thinker and philosopher. In its basic form, the natural rights philosophy says that all men are born with certain national rights that cannot be denied. These are the rights best known as “life, liberty, and property.” These natural rights promoted a level of freedom that most people around the world did not enjoy at that time. Just to have a certain level of liberty from the all powerful king would go a long way for colonists.

"The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions…"
- The Two Treatises of Civil Government, John Locke 1689

John Locke


Who Cares?

The American colonists cared about the natural rights philosophy. This was mainly because many of them believed that they did not have many of these “natural rights,” but they wanted them. As they were British colonists, they believed that King George III of England was the one who was denying them their natural rights. So, they rebelled and fought the Revolutionary War against England. The natural rights philosophy served as their primary justification for rebellion. As the colonist Patrick Henry stated in his attempt to get more colonists to rebel: “give me liberty, or give me death”.


Before Rebellion



Colonists Rebel Against England


In declaring independence from England in 1776, the colonists wanted to make it a formal matter, in writing. To do this, they wrote King George III a letter telling him that they wanted independence and why they wanted it. This document was called The Declaration of Independence. The author of this momentous document was Thomas Jefferson. In it, it’s very clear to historians that Jefferson was a student and advocate of the natural rights philosophy as in the second paragraph he writes “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.” This one phrase, inspired by the natural rights philosophy serves as the foundation to all civil rights granted to citizens within the United States Constitution. Without these words, and the inspiration they came from, it is very probable that there would not be a Bill of Rights within the U.S. Constitution, not to mention the nonexistence of an array of many other amendments that protect the personal freedoms of Americans every day. Freedoms such as the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and freedom of religion would probably not exist as Americans know and enjoy them.


The American Revolutionary Way



Consent of the Governed

Within the Declaration of Independence Jefferson also included the philosophy of the “consent of the governed.” In the second paragraph of the document he writes:

"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 to 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."

– The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson 1776

In this document, and according to the philosophy, the government’s powers come from the citizens. It’s the government that is to serve the citizens, not the other way around. The government is only in existence because the citizens allow them (consent) to be. This was also a philosophy of John Locke. Although Locke wasn’t alive during the time of the American Revolution, he sure did influence it.

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