The Origin Of Rights
& Purpose Of Government

by A.K. Pritchard

"A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate."
--Thomas Jefferson: Rights of British America, 1774

Where do our rights come from? Does the Constitution grant them to us? Do we obtain them from the Government? To get real understanding of the issue, an understanding of the fundamental principles of our government system is a must. First and foremost is the rationale of the founding fathers of the U.S. in establishing this nation. Their ideas on government and individual liberty are clearly revealed in our Declaration Of Independence. Quoting from that document:

"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;"

Note the following:

1) that they are endowed BY THEIR CREATOR with certain unalienable rights!

ENDOW´ - To enrich or furnish with any gift, quality or faculity; to indue. Man is endowed by his maker with reason. [Websters 1828]

This idea, that human rights are the gift of God and not government, separates the U.S. from many other nations who hold that these rights are granted by government, and are in fact owned by government. Have you ever heard someone utter the phrase "the government gave me the right to...", or similar words to that effect? If you were to ask the common person on the street where we obtain our rights, most would reply from the government, or from the Constitution. He who grants rights may also take rights away!

UNALIENABLE - Not alienable; that cannot be alienated; that may not be transferred; as unalienable rights. [Websters 1828]

As applied to the understanding of the Constitution:

The Constitution proper neither allows nor disallows any rights, nor claims the authority to grant human rights. Does the Government "grant", or "allow" the right to life?

Our Constitution does a number of things, among them it creates and defines our government, it grants certain powers to that government, and it severely restricts our government to those powers eneumerated within it and furthermore reserves all other powers not specificaly granted to the Federal government to the States or the People.

Amendment Ten

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.

If the Constitution does not grant or endow rights, why was a bill of rights included then? Consider:


Begun and held at the city of New York, on Wednesday, the 4th day of March, 1789.

The conventions of a number of the States having, at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, IN ORDER TO PREVENT MISCONSTRUCTION OR ABUSE OF ITS POWERS, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added, and as extending the ground of public confidence in the government will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution: [emphasis mine]

And furthermore:

"The very purpose of a Bill of Rights is to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts."
West Virginia State Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 638 (1943).


"[A] bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse."
--- Thomas Jefferson December 20, 1787

Those who founded this country, and established our Republican form of government wanted there to be no misunderstanding about certain issues, whether some rights were indeed rights or not, and so they enumerated some of them , but DID NOT GRANT, CREATE, ALLOW, ENDOW, etc., any human right. The fact is, one could do away with the entire bill of rights and not destroy any of our rights, because the bill of rights does not grant rights it only prevents the government from infringing upon our rights as stated in the preamble to the bill of rights "TO PREVENT MISCONSTRUCTION OR ABUSE OF ITS POWERS ."

"The deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded."
- C.L. De Montesquieu - The Spirit of the Laws, VII

2) that AMONG THESE are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;

These are AMONG the human rights, but NOT limited to these few listed, as verified in our own Constitution:

Amendment Nine

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

3) that, TO SECURE THESE RIGHTS, governments are instituted among men!

SECURE - 1] To guard effectually from danger; to make safe. Fortifications may secure a city; ships of war may secure a harbor. 2] To make certain; to put beyond hazard. Liberty and fixed laws secure to every citizen due protection of person and property. The first duty and the highest interest of men is to secure the favor of God by repentence and faith, and thus to secure to themselves future felicity. [Websters 1828]

The purpose of governments (note the plural) being instituted is TO SECURE HUMAN RIGHTS - NOT GRANT RIGHTS.

4) deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;

Governments (plural) have only the power that the PEOPLE GRANT UNTO THEM! Another vast departing from the majority of governments who claim power separate from, and over the people that they rule. This is one of the primary differences between a CITIZEN and a SUBJECT. The JUST powers of the U.S. are derived from the people, and are exercised WITH THE CONSENT of the people.

© Copyright 1995 - Anthony K. Pritchard
All Rights Reserved



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