Thursday, March 15, 2012

Research Materials for Inducing Individual Rights (Founding Fathers)

I've decided to include a list of sites and books that helped me really understand and flesh out the theory of individual rights as the Founding Fathers understood it.

  1. The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia.  The quotes on the topic of "rights" were really helpful in quoting Jefferson in support of the points I made in this paper.
  2. Freedom Key's section, "About Rights." It has a good collection of quotes about rights, especially a few gems in particular by Jefferson, John Adams, and William Blackstone.

  3. The Founder's Constitution is the online version of a five-volume text on the historical context of the U.S.Constitution.  It has primary materials from the Founding Fathers, including letters sent amongst themselves, records of debates or meetings, and contemporary law cases.  I especially relied on the materials found in the sections, "Rights," "Republican Government,""Right of Revolution,""Popular Basis of Political Authority," "Equality," "Property," and "Epilogue: Securing the Republic."

  4. "Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand," by Leonard Peikoff.  Despite having read Ayn Rand's books before reading this, I never considered the point that rights are inseparable and form a unity until I read Dr. Peikoff's discussion of them in chapter ten of the book, "Government."  The book is also my original source for the Samuel Adams quote about the rights of man being branches of "the duty of self-preservation."

  5. "John Adams," by Anne Husted Burleigh.  A republication of the biography Mrs. Burleigh wrote 40 years earlier, it is a very well-written work on the life of John Adams, and really gives you a sense of astonishment at the political victories this man accomplished in his life.  I'm still in the middle of finishing it, but I used the pages relevant to rights and the government to inform my essay.

  6. "The Leadership Assumptions of the American Statesmen During the Federal Convention and Ratification Debates, 1787-1789," the dissertation of Dr. Darin Layton Gerdes.  Chapter four features the assumptions and the conclusions of the Founders and others who participated in the Federal debates to ratify the U.S. Constitution.  These assumptions and conclusions centered around their ideas of "the nature of man," "the nature of power," "the nature of government," "the nature of people," and "the nature of society."  That chapter alone is great material for inducing many of the Founders' political principles from their personal context, such as inducing the corrupt nature of political power by examining cases where unchecked power led to needless violations of rights, destruction, and death.
Those were my sources for the essay.  I expect to use even more for my next essay, on republican government.

I may delve into this topic more deeply when I get the chance, so if anyone knows any works that would be really relevant, please let me know in the comments.


  1. I'm currently reading Randy Barnett's 'Restoring the Lost Constitution' and have found it to be helpful in sorting through the meaning of rights and the proper role of government in protecting them (or in the case of recent constitutional interpretation) violating them.

  2. also- Great work so far! thankyou

    1. Hi Roderick,

      I occasionally stop by your site as I make my rounds to other internet sites on the web, and I echo Anonymous' sentiments. In case you're interested, I usually post over on Dawson Bethrick's blog:

      In case you haven't seen it and you're interested, it is a tremendous resource for dealing with theism (especially "presuppositionalism") from an Objectivist perspective.

      Anyway, you asked for some works might be relevant to the topic at hand. Although I haven't read much of him, and although his work came **after** our our constitutional republic was formed, Frédéric Bastiat might be someone worth looking into. Perhaps you might find in his writings citations and references to the kind of thinkers that the Founders of our country looked to.

      Here's something on Bastiat via Wikipedia from his Economic Harmonies:

      "We cannot doubt that self-interest is the mainspring of human nature. It must be clearly understood that this word is used here to designate a universal, incontestable fact, resulting from the nature of man, and not an adverse judgment, as would be the word selfishness."

      And this from Wikipedia: "Bastiat also explains why his position is that the law cannot defend life, liberty, and property if it promotes socialist policies."

      I hope this helps. And keep up the good work!


  3. Ever read Jeremy Bentham's criticism on rights?