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By James R. Stoner, Public Discourse, Aug. 24, 2021

James R. Stoner, Jr., is Hermann Moyse, Jr., Professor and Director of the Eric Voegelin Institute at Louisiana State University. Author of Common Law & Liberal Theory and Common-Law Liberty, he co-edited Political Thought of the Civil War and three volumes for the Withers…

To those who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence, political liberty and natural law went together: Nature summons man, individually and collectively, to self-government and guides him in the exercise of his power of choice.

This essay is part of a week-long series drawn from the Witherspoon Institute’s project on Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism. Click here to read PD Editor-in-Chief R.J. Snell’s introduction to the series.

No public document gives more prominence to the idea of natural law, nor relies more crucially upon natural law as a premise, than the Declaration of Independence.  To understand why this is so and what it means for American constitutionalism requires reading the text of the Declaration in its political, historical, and philosophical context.

As a political statement, the Declaration was the culmination of a series issued by the several Continental Congresses, the voluntary associations of representatives of thirteen British colonies in North America that spoke for the colonists as a whole.  …

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