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Natural Rights

Article 1 (1780)

All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness. [Annulled by Amendments, Art. 106]

Article of Amendment, Article 106 (1976)

All people are born free and equal and have certain natural, essential and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness. Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed or national origin.

Approved November 2, 1976

Precedents, Following Law, and Quotations

John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (1688):

“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.”

 

Preamble to the Declaration of Independence , drafted by Thomas Jefferson, ratified by the Second Continental Congress, July 4, 1776:

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.”

 

Frederick Douglass, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”, Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852:

“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?

I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted imprudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery. . .”

 

From Justice Herbert P. Wilkins, “Non-Fliers in Philadelphia”, 72 Massachusetts Law Review 7 (1987):

“Article 1 of the Declaration of Rights, paraphrasing part of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Declaration of Rights, announces that “all men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights.’  Three years after the people adopted the Massachusetts Constitution, Chief Justice William Cushing of the Supreme Judicial Court declared slavery to be contrary to this State’s Constitution in what is known as the Quock Walker case. (1783) Cushing referred to the ‘natural rights of man, and to the ‘natural, innate desire of liberty’ and declared that the Massachusetts Constitution was repugnant to the idea of anyone being born a slave. . . This concept of freedom for all human beings was rejected in Philadelphia.  In fact, the United States Constitution indirectly sanctions slavery, probably an unavoidable, but hardly commendable, compromise at the time.”

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