From the very birth of our republic, the American credo has been rooted in the tradition of natural law; it has been imbued with the belief that there is a higher standard by which all man-made rules must be measured. In the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson justified the American case for separation from Great Britain with a classic appeal to the natural law:
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a people to advance from that subordination in which they have hitherto remained & to assume among the powers of the earth the equal & independent station to which the laws of nature & of nature’s god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to change.We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from the equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness… [Italics added.]
There are some events in society to which human laws cannot extend, but when applied to them lose their force and efficacy. In short when human laws contradict or discountenance the means which are necessary to preserve the essential rights of any society, they defeat the proper end of all laws and so become null and void….The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written as with a sunbeam in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of Divinity itself and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power. [Italics added.]
That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent right, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
At his first inauguration (1789), George Washington declared “it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act my fervent supplications to the Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect…” In his Farewell Address, Washington reminded the nation that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports….Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” John Adams agreed. “Our Constitution,” he wrote, “was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”