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Jefferson's Lost Intent for a Christian Nation


Draft revised: June 13th, 2021.

Abstract

Jefferson's intent, when declaring independence from the British, was that secular law derive authority from a Lockean social contract granting natural rights. Jefferson agreed with the other founders that natural rights were "self-evident" because he saw them as rational deductions, made from scientific and theological premises on the "laws of Nature and of Nature's God." The other founders simply felt Jefferson's rights were self-evident from intuitive common sense.

Atheistic bias has since led to eradication of Jefferson's original rationale from public knowledge. Now, Constitutional Rights are ENTIRELY held to be "self-evident" from conflicting intuitions, amidst battles for control in the reversing tides of majority passions.

This page indicates what limited knowledge people do have of the theories behind Jefferson's intent. It introduces Jefferson's actual premises, deductions, and purpose for natural and Constitutional rights. It describes how legal positivism took over, but cannot by itself provide moral solutions to problems that the Founders could not have anticipated. The appendices summarize some unequivocal resolutions to current major debates, deduced from Jefferson's Lockean rationale.



Edits to Natural Rights in the Declaration of Independence

Contents

1. Introduction

2. Laws of Nature and Nature's God

3. The Jeffersonian Rights

4. Devolutions in Rights

5. Conclusion

Appendix:
Considerations in Applying Jeffersonian Rights to Current Issues

A. War

B. Abortion

C. Illegal Immigration

D. Capital Punishment

E. The 2nd Amendment

F. Slavery Reparation

About Me

1. Introduction

In its 1776 Declaration of Independence, the USA declared Britain had violated the primary natural rights of life and liberty that all equally deserve, justifying the first bloody war in the USA's turbulent history. Jefferson's natural rights undeniably remain the source of authority on which the USA justifies its right to rule itself. Refusing to acknowledge the reasoning which leads to the rights we have is one cause of the recent increasing mob violence on both sides of the political divide, if not the source of the conflict in the first place.

Self-Evident by Intuition, Not - Jefferson accepted rights to "Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness" as self evident because they are rational deductions, from premises he accepted, on the "laws of nature and nature's God" to which he devoutly referred in the Declaration of Independence. But now most people think rights are undeniably self evident by intuition.

However, even the rights themselves aren't intuitively obvious. Other nations think other rights are self evident. Thus intuition by itself is not enough to define what the rights themselves should be, let alone how to apply them. One would think that should be obvious, but the 'self evident rights' are taught to schoolchildren at such an early age, assumptions based on intuitive beliefs have become ingrained as indubitable in national debate.

Much of the USA's early growth might be due to Jefferson's wise choice of natural rights from the writings of one of the men he admired most, John Locke. Jefferson admired the genius of the man so much, Locke's oil portrait hung in a place of honor in Jefferson's Monticello home, opposite the staircase. Other founders, including Thomas Paine. John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, felt that Jefferson's deductions from Locke were obvious from common sense - but like many products of genius, the ideas are only obvious after a genius points it out.

Edits to Natural Rights in the Declaration of Independence

The Benefits of the Rationale - None of the founders contested the obvious benefits of the rights Jefferson proposed. But others had not read Locke. Hence there was a great deal of debate as to how to frame Jeffersonian rights, as shown in this early draft of the Declaration of Independence. Edits led to obscuring Jefferson's intent, for example, by changing "we hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable" to "we hold these truths to be self evident." Jefferson had hoped that advances in education would enable more people to understand that the truths are self evident as rational deductions, rather than intuitions. But that hasn't happened.

The original rationale for Jeffersonian natural rights is a framework of scientific, metaphysical, legal, political, and spiritual notions concerning the purpose of justice, which have evolved substantially over two thousand years under a cross-disciplinary umbrella known as Natural Law. Jefferson's rationale provides unequivocal resolutions to heavily contested issues in the modern world. If all people actually learned the rationale, then only one half of the social divide would be basing its opinions purely on intuitive opinions. That could only be an improvement over the current combative positions of the political parties.

The Void in Public Knowledge - Virtually all U.S. citizens don't know of Jefferson's reasoning, because it is theistic, and therefore shunned in the modern public-school system. Professionals in some fields do know of the natural law producing Jeffersonian natural rights for different reasons:

Locke's theistic metaphysics are in his massive Essay Concerning Human Understanding (London, 1690), triple the length of both his Treatises on Government put together. From that Jefferson formulated rational deductions as to what rights are best for a Christian democratic republic. While a number of Locke's other metaphysical propositions have been superseded by new scientific and epistemological work, his rationalization for natural rights persists as an astoundingly untarnished deduction from his premises, even after over three centuries of academic criticism.

2. Laws of Nature and Nature's God

Because Jefferson's primary source book isn't taught in USA's schools, virtually all Americans think the Laws of Nature and Nature's God, in the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence, doesn't refer to anything specific. In fact, the phrase specifically refers to Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Chapter 9, 'On Perception'. Locke there explains the underpinning for his laws of nature, which became the basis of the technical 'state of nature' in Locke's better known Treatise on Government.

Locke was the first Western empiricist to advocate the tabula rasa model of child development, which holds we are born able to form ideas, but cannot distinguish between our own ideas, internal sensations, and external perceptions. While there's alternatives to the tabula rasa theory, it remains a reasonable scientific model for the laws of nature in which we exist, still applied to better the lives of all in modern ideas of early education, psychotherapy, and artificial intelligence (most notably by Freud and Piaget, as summarized in this Psychology WIKI page and Wikipedia article).

From the tabula rasa model, Locke infers a profound agreement with Augustine's Laws of God that all are born equal in the eyes of God for proper judgment in the afterlife, and that the primary goal of human law should be to enable personal salvation in every way possible (see Augustine's City of God, Rome, 420). Therein is the heart of the problem, because Augustine was a theologian, so the theistic conclusions he draws from this in Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Book II, Chapter 21, 'On Power' have fallen into an interdisciplinary void. This is not helped by the fact that Locke rather assumes everyone knows this Augustinian premise, so he only indirectly refers to it a number of times, rather than stating it explicitly in any one pace. But it remains rather undeniable, from his reasoning in his chapter on power, that this premise was the basis of his reasoning. For unlike Augustine, Locke does not infer that the church should govern, but instead constructs a social contract whereby secular law can provide social justice in a democracy, rather than start another Dark Ages like Augustine's own conclusions from that premise originally caused...For which we ourselves can only be profoundly grateful.

All are created equal - Thus, the Declaration of Independence states "All are created equal," and many now remark on the apparent ingenuity of Jefferson that the word created avoids many issues with obvious inequities. Most regard 'equal rights' as an attempt to preserve equality justly. Almost no one recognizes either the significance of the tabula rasa model, nor of the needs of a just and loving God to give humanity a fair chance at a pleasant afterlife. At most, people are puzzled by why Jefferson chose pursuit of happiness as a natural right rather than the right to property discussed in Locke's Treatises on Government, which is explained in the next section.

Much as many now ridicule even the existence of a God, such agnostic inclinations cannot invalidate deductions from this premise, because it is also impossible to disprove the existence of a just and loving God. It also remains undeniable that most of those founding the USA had faith and hope in the existence of such a God, making it unreasonable to remove that faith when considering the rationale under which this nation was framed.

3. The Jeffersonian Rights

Jefferson intended that secular law restrict human interference upon divine judgment, while progressively enhancing quality of life. The Declaration of Independence therefore defines 'the laws of nature and of nature's God' as a Lockean social contract whereby U.S. citizens grant the Government the right to impose taxes and restrictions, in exchange for honoring natural rights as inalienable ('equal for all'). Based on Locke's Augustinian premise that all are born equal in the eyes of God, that He may best judge us in the afterlife, Jefferson deduced the USA's three natural rights as follows:

  1. LIFE is the primary right, because God should decide when we die, not us. This includes rights to water, food, protection from heathens by national defense, and more recently, shelter and national health too.
  2. LIBERTY is the second right, to enable unfettered choice between good and evil. Under this right we may also choose the pleasures of the natural world that best suits each of us. This right justifies a free market, under regulations to protect rights to life, freedom of religion, and ancillary rights which promote equal treatment under a just and loving God.
  3. PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS is an additional right because it enables all to act for the greater good. This unique right to the USA might account for its early success and growth. While we may choose which happinesses to pursue, the greatest happinesses arise from acting for benefit of society, yielding 'a more solid and permanent happiness' in heaven, if not before. This right justifies government sponsorship of libraries, museums, parks and recreation, public TV and radio, education, and scientific research. And most significantly, in the founder's time, the wealthy would choose to provide charitable support to unfortunates as necessary to earn the greatest happiness of all.

Jefferson described natural rights as sacred but not divine, because they derive authority fron God, but are only a human interpretation of 'Divine Law.' Authority promulgates to the secular definition of Constitutional Law, and thence to common law, as per Aquinas. The Right to Property is in Jefferson's view a civil right accorded to a person's station in society, leading to higher taxes for those who own more property. Hence property is not an inalienable natural right.

The extent of Locke's reasoning whence Jefferson drew these rights, in Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Book II, Chapter 21, 'On Power', is truly magnificent and filled with the language of our nation. For a primer on Locke's actual process of logical deduction, please see the first half of my blog Natural Rights, Gun Rights, and Legal Rights on LinkedIn.

4. Devolutions in Rights

WHEN THE BRUTAL CIVIL WAR FINALLY ENDED In 1865, the USA put 3.9 million prior slaves on the streets all at the same time, without much money, no education, and no other support. It was far more than traditional acts of charity could possibly alleviate. All of the lower class suffered from extreme poverty, famine, and disease. Unemployment rose dramatically. In 1873-1874, one in four laborers in New York were out of work. In 1876, national unemployment had reached 14%; many more were severely underemployed; wages overall had dropped 45%; and 18,000 American businesses failed, defaulting on debt equivalent to 100 billion in current dollars. The loan defaults continued after 1876, wiping out the majority of the nation's banks. Shortages of commodities put their prices up. The resulting Long Depression, with concurrent inflation, lasted 12 years.

A long departure of the faithful from Christian churches commenced. In the 1890s a fluttering of new religious ideals, marked by the Amish and Shaker communities, tried to resurrect Christian morality to Jeffersonian levels. But the horrifying machinery of war and endless deaths of the First World War, followed by the confused hedonism of the Prohibition Era, put atheistic cynicism on the rise.

Moral Decay - in the 1930s, a stock market collapse AGAIN completely overwhelmed the poor houses. Expectations of charitable support by the rich were replaced in Roosevelt's New Deal by 'entitlement programs.' By that time, predominantly atheistic attitudes on the virtues of hoarding wealth had taken over, leading to widespread reinterpretation of natural rights purely for worldly self gain, amidst escalating, hostile denials of the theistic framework by which the USA's natural rights were originally defined.

Profiteers have particularly enjoyed hacking away at the right to pursue happiness. Consider for example that private news media used to make most their income from classified ads, for which reason unbiased news reporting was to their advantage; but now all that revenue goes to Google and Facebook, from whom other nations such as Australia extract fees to be pay for local news (LA Times, 2/22/2021). A similar move in the USA would be hotly rejected by the stock market. Government sponsorship of public TV and media should have been able to fill the void and provide unbiased reporting under Jeffersonian principles, but even Public TV and radio has been stripped to barebones life support.

The Emergence of Legal Positivism - The resulting 'entitlements' from the 1930s are justified under Constitutional Rights by themselves. But without Jefferson's rationale, there's no way to converge on exactly what entitlements should be. Aside from the Supreme Court's opinions on interpreting Constitutional Rights by the Founders' intents, attorneys disregard promulgation of authority from natural rights as a method to resolve disputes, now implementing instead a method called 'legal positivism' (from John Austin and H.L.A. Hart). Three progressively complex perspectives on legal positivism follow:

  1. Legal positivism avoids any statement of what the purpose of law ought to be, rather than what it is, to avoid an ancient trap known as Hume's Guillotine. Around the time of USA's formation, Hume observed there's no way to determine the truth of statements about what people ought to do without invoking beliefs that could be justifiably dubious. Hume's 'guillotine' therefore 'slices off' all statements about what ought to be done, to avoid any possible doubt. Thus, legal positivists make no statement about what the purpose of law ought to be, instead simply saying what the law is.
  2. For a description of Hume's guillotine in formal logic, see the naturalistic fallacy in Principia Ethica (G.E. Moore, Cambridge, 1903), from which truth evaluation has been successfully extended to resolve moral disagreements within well-defined paradigms (such as Darwinism, or specific theologies), but not across different ethical systems.
  1. The moniker 'legal positivism' was invented in the last century to parallel Wittgenstein's ideas of 'logical positivism' in Tractatus Logico-philosophicus (Austria, 1921). The Tractatus starts with the premise "The world is made of facts" and concludes "Over that which we cannot speak, we must pass over in silence." In between, the Tractatus states what facts can say about themselves, in a perfectly circular argument. In the Tractatus' last sentence, aspects of reality that are factually indeterminate are so 'unspoken,' even their existence cannot be explicitly stated in words.
  2. Similarly, legal positivists hold that law is good for society. As to what the purpose of society should be, legal positivism passes over in silence. In between, just like the Tractatus, legal positivism states that its interpretation of law is right because it says so, in a perfectly circular argument (see this Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy page). As a consequence, attorneys can talk about law being right with total confidence, never mentioning what 'the purpose of law' should be besides upholding its own justice.
  3. Before legal positivism, much the same ideas were regarded as utilitarian pragmae on how to maximize happiness (per Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill). Utilitarianism set the stage for advancing new ideas on maximizing happiness by avoiding debates on what happiness actually is, in much the same way as legal positivism has resulted in enormous advances in legislation without needing to consider whether the legislation is actually a good idea.
  1. Legal positivism is based on a metaphysical position called 'legal realism.' The perspective is a considerable advance on Paine's naive realism, discussed in the introduction. Legal realism makes a distinction between properties of the observable world ('extrinsic properties') and internal states ('intrinsic properties'), wherein lies both the strength and weakness of the perspective.
  2. Very generally speaking, intrinsic states include beliefs, emotions, intents, and other mental states that are not directly observable. Intrinsic states also include beliefs about the observable world, so the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction is not straightforward.
  3. For example, 'weight' is directly observable, and therefore an extrinsic property; but 'mass' is more complicated. Scientific models state mass is fixed, and warps space at relativistic scales. It could equally be true that space is fixed and warps matter, but most science prefers the first perspective, because distortions of Euclidean geometries are easier for us to conceive ('string theories' and black-hole models may prefer the latter perspective). That is to say, mass may appear similar to the extrinsic, observable property of weight, but is an intrinsic property. The actual existence of 'mass' is unknowable, regardless how much application of its concept is useful as an intrinsic belief. (Even if only imaginary, mass still has intrinsic properties, similar to other imagined phenomena, such as Santa Claus.) For further discussion of the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction in formal logic, see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy page on the topic.
  4. Legal realism holds that legal judgments can only be of extrinsic properties, from which intrinsic properties can at most be inferred. Thus, when a person is held guilty or innocent, the judgment must be entirely based on the extrinsic, observable evidence which is pertinent to the case, rather than a judgment of the person in any way. The extrinsic evidence may include, for example, verbal statements about intrinsic states of a defendant, such as whether the defendant intended to do something or not. But the judgment is based on the verbal statements, not on the inferred intrinsic state. That is the strength of legal positivism...and it's so important, Lady Justice is portrayed as wearing a blindfold, holding the sword of justice while weighing the evidence on a scale.
  5. However, beliefs about what the purpose of law should be are intrinsic. Thus, legal realists must in parallel withhold beliefs about the purpose of law when making judgments, and cannot make judgments about law itself.

Society has regarded both legal positivism and utilitarianism as useful. Rule utilitarianism has enabled the conception of new laws that restrict liberty to a small extent, in exchange for far greater benefits overall. For example, all drivers can reach their destinations more quickly and safely when cars traveling in opposite directions are restricted to opposite sides of the road. And for common-law legislation, legal positivism upholds precedence with excellence.

If a case has no precedence, it ascends through the legal system to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has historically applied The Founding Fathers intent from the surviving evidence of it, such as The Federalist Papers. While the Supreme Court is generally very familiar with the Founders' intent, the amount that Jefferson's implementation of Lockean thoughts can be applied is very limited. For example, the Supreme court still holds, like everybody else, that natural rights are only self-evident by intuition.

In the last years of the Obama administration, I was working for Mr. Obama on gun control, during which I wrote Mr. Obama about how Jefferson thought of natural rights as self-evident by deduction from Lockean rationale. It was with some shock I learned that Mr. Obama, who had previously taught Constitutional Law himself, was unfamiliar with considering 'self evident' to mean 'obvious from rational deduction' rather than 'obvious from intuition.' For much that reason he had not previously read himself Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding. He was delighted by the discovery and gave me some excellent advice on how to continue this work for which I will always be grateful. However at that time, I was working for him on gun control, and did not follow up on the topic with his administration. I did not know how much social rejection there would be on Jefferson's lost intent, so I worked for him on 2nd-Amendment issues until he left office. Since that time I have been trying to find any educational institution that has taught about it, or who would teach about it. I found none. When I sent professors what I had written for President Obama, they unilaterally agreed that the evidence is rather undeniably irrefutable. However, they also said, the syllabi for philosophy, law, history, and other such subjects have been rather set in stone on topics surrounding the Founders intent at least since the 1960s by higher authorities who strongly object to introducing religious theories into the educational system. The most they want to permit is mention that Jefferson was religious, and that's about it. I am not in University, so I neither have access to those authorities, nor to the academic journals publishing their work. When I approached the main political parties, I was only told the theistic nature of Jefferson's thought makes it forbidden. So the knowledge remains in a void.

Meanwhile, with the continuing progress of science and society, unprecedented problems have proliferated. Such cases now include abortion and early birth, homosexuality and sex changes, sexual consent outside marriage, sexual and racial discrimination, reparations, huge indigenous populations of illegal immigrants, huge international corporations beyond fiscal or ethical control, an escalating inundation of increasingly lethal firearms in private hands, media bias, and climate change. All of these cases require an opinion on what the purpose of society should be, for which reason legal positivism can provide no answer. In absence of other guidance on new problems, the Supreme Court is ever more frequently forced to fall back on two recourses:

5. Conclusion

Human rights and Rousseau are both purely secular, but have no moral backbone to them. The greater ideals of natural rights originally proposed by Jefferson are further eroded by each passing year as majority passions exert evermore force. The partisan divide has been widening for decades. As each party takes over majority control, and majority passions change, more and more decisions are flip flopping back and forth. It's now been a century since the prohibition of alcohol was reversed in the next Constitutional amendment, and flip flops have just increased in number since. As of this draft March 19th 2021, President Biden has signed 50 executive orders since taking office 60 days ago, almost all of which reverse Trump's decisions. Intuitive rejections of election results caused Trumpists to storm the capitol. The USA has higher COVID death rates than any other nation. Despite that, 47% of Trump voters plan to refuse vaccination (Rolling Stone, 3/14/2021).

There is no existent force in the nation to prevent worse discord. Soon, climate change is going to be killing more people than from worsening hurricanes alone. President Trump withdrew from the Paris Accord. President Biden rejoined it. What's to stop the same flip flopping until millions die from floods and heat?

Whatever the religious basis of Jefferson's ideas, it was his intent to create a progressive society based on Christian principles. The Lockean social contract described here is a complete empirical framework whence rationales can be derived for new problems in a far superior manner than by intuition alone. The Jeffersonian intent could provide a moral backbone that would end the conflicts in intuitions. So far, it seems the USA can't even acknowledge his intent's existence. Will anyone take Jefferson's intent seriously and take advantage of its unified rationale to solve problems? And who exactly has the authority to say a Founding Father's intent should not be considered in Supreme Court decisions merely because it is a Christian rationale? Exactly where did that come from? I've heard it often enough while sharing the idea. I can find no reason for it.

Those who are able to suspend judgment so far could try to object that Jefferson's rationale 'requires a belief in God.' Not everyone agrees that a God even exists at all, let alone a just and loving God. Not everyone agrees that there is an afterlife. Those who act for the greater good may suffer more than they deserve for their entire existence, whether or not there is an afterlife.

However, even without belief in its premises, the model could still provide better results than the chaos that current methods are causing. Jefferson did NOT intend to force people to believe in God in order for his rationale to work. And Jefferson did NOT intend that atheistic passions eradicate knowledge of the Lockean rationale for natural rights from the general public. Jefferson would have objected to replacing the hope in the Lockean social contract with the fear of the Hobbesian social contract, reframed for democratic appeal by Rousseau (further discussed in the following section).

As boldly pointed out in this article's title, the rights upon which the USA was founded ARE based on a Christian theory. It was JEFFERSON's social contract, not Rousseau's, which justified rebellion against the British and formation of this nation. The USA still only remains an independent nation under the justification of Jefferson's social contract. Each time the validity of Jefferson's rationale is obstructed, the USA loses more authority to rule itself. If the USA continues on its current path into hell, it will lose the ability to rule at all.



APPENDIX.
Application of Jeffersonian Rights
to Current Conflicts


~

About Me

My name is Ernest Meyer, this is my private site, and I make no money from my work. Born in Washington DC in 1960, I earned all-paid schlarshiups to Eton prep, Stowe (Bucks, UK), and Oxford University, where I sat Philosophy, Psychology, and Politics (PPP).

I became a semiconductor analyst, then a silicon-valley engineer. I was a digital architect on the first 802.11 chipset, the first Pentium, the first Japanese cellphone, the prototype Netflix interface, and the first iPhone microprocessor. I retired when Steve Jobs died. You can contact me on LinkedIn at:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ernest-meyer/

Thank you for visiting my site.