The debate over which philosophy influenced the Constitution is long standing and continues to this day. I propose that natural rights arguments influenced the Constitution and that by understanding those influences, the courts possess a strong guide for understanding new issues that lack clear guidance from the Constitution’s text. To establish natural rights as the philosophy behind the Constitution, I first analyze Locke’s Second Treatise on Government and then scholarly works about the philosophical influences on the Constitution. From these works, I establish the central natural rights threads of equality between people, the purpose of government, protection from government overreach, and the right to property in one’s person. Then I search for those threads in documents on the Second and Eighth Amendments written when the Constitution was being debated by people like Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, and John Jay. Those natural rights threads were used by the people debating the Constitution as a way to explain the people’s rights and the relationship that these rights have to a government. After establishing that the natural rights explanations of equality, the purpose of government, protection from government overreach, and the right to property in one’s person influenced the Constitution’s writing, I apply my analysis to six Supreme Court cases on the Second and Eighth Amendments. My analysis reveals that those threads of natural rights argumentation that I developed initially are present in the Supreme Court’s arguments across time. Therefore, I conclude that natural rights explanations for equality, the purpose of government, protection from government overreach, and the right to property in one’s person are central in the Supreme Court’s decision making, showing that natural rights philosophy has guided the Constitution throughout its history. Thus, natural rights philosophy is a valid way for the courts to understand new constitutional issues.
History; Political Science
Griffith, Jordan, "Rights, Naturally: An Examination of Natural Rights Philosophy in Constitutional Thought and Decision Making" (2019). Senior Independent Study Theses. Paper 8595.
American Politics | Constitutional Law | Courts | History of Philosophy | Legal | Legal Theory | Political History | Political Theory | United States History
History, political theory, Supreme Court, Courts, Constitutional law, John Locke, David Hume, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Second Amendment, Eighth Amendment, Bill of Rights
Bachelor of Arts
Senior Independent Study Thesis
© Copyright 2019 Jordan Griffith