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Obama: God-Given Rights 'Was a Radical Idea'

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

President Barack Obama affirmed this week that the Declaration of Independence recognizes that "individual human beings" have "God-given rights."

Yet, he insisted this was a "radical idea" at the time of the founding.


Were he right -- which he is not -- history would see it as one radical idea Obama did not devoutly pursue.

On multiple occasions early in his presidency, Obama dropped any reference to the Creator when paraphrasing these famous words from the Declaration: "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."

But Obama did not do that Tuesday when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly.

"So I recognize a traditional society may value unity and cohesion more than a diverse country like my own," he said, "which was founded upon what, at the time, was a radical idea -- the idea of the liberty of individual human beings endowed with certain God-given rights."

What would Alexander Hamilton say to that? Or Thomas Jefferson? Or Cicero?

Writing in February 1775, a young Hamilton argued that God-given rights and natural law were anciently recognized truths.

"Good and wise men, in all ages...have supposed, that the Deity, from the relations we stand in to Himself, and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensably obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever," Hamilton wrote in "The Farmer Refuted."


To emphasize this point, he quoted Sir William Blackstone's "Commentaries on the Laws of England."

"This," wrote Hamilton, "is what is called the law of nature, 'which, being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.'"

Hamilton understood that our God-given rights are part of the natural law and that no government has the authority to take them away.

"The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records," he wrote. "They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power."

A half a century later, looking back on the drafting of the Declaration, Jefferson (who hypocritically and unjustly held human beings in bondage in contradiction to the principle of the Declaration), echoed Hamilton's argument that this principle was not radical but commonly held and long understood.


"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence," Jefferson wrote in 1825. "Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion."

"All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day," said Jefferson, "whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c."

Writing decades before the birth of Christ, Cicero made the same argument Hamilton did the year before Jefferson wrote the Declaration.

"There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil," said Cicero.


"This law cannot be contradicted by any other law, and is not liable either to derogation or abrogation," he said, according to a translation published in 1841.

"It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing to-day and another to-morrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must forever reign, eternal and imperishable," said Cicero.

"God himself is its author, its promulgator, its enforcer," he wrote. "He who obeys it not, flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man."

Obama says this was a "radical idea" in 1776. Two millennia ago, Cicero called it unchangeable truth.

A president who acted on it would protect the God-given right to life of all "individual human beings" and never try to force individuals to act against their consciences.

Obama fails on both counts.

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