The primary purpose of this
work is to help Americans everywhere,
especially our students, to rediscover the essence of American's greatness. This is found in its philosophical foundations
of liberty outlined in the Declaration of Independence; in the principles of government for a free people provided in the
United States Constitution; and in the reasoning of this philosophy and these principles explained in THE
In our republic, the people hold the sovereign power. If the sovereign people do not understand the philosophical
foundations and the principles of liberty and their responsibility to protect them, they will not be able to preserve
over time the greatness of America and the freedom of its people.
While there have been some experiments with citizens' rule throughout history (notably, Israel, under Moses, the
Athenian City States, and the Roman republics), for the most part, people had been ruled and controlled by government,
whether by a tribal chief, a feudal lord, a king, or an emperor. The people were allowed only the limited
freedom their government was willing to give them. This same relationship has persisted in modern times in such
forms as dictatorships and politburos. This condition can be graphically shown as follows:
This government-citizen relationship is referred to as Rulers' Law. There was always the
tendency of those in power to abuse it. The people had not yet learned to control such abuse.
This condition underwent a major change in 1776, when the American colonies revolted against the tyranny of
English rule, and that of King George III in particular. The American Revolution was as much a culmination of a
revolution of political thought as it was a war of revolt. The Declaration of Independence was the first formally
adopted political document that provided a radically new philosophical foundation for a free society. This new approach
may be diagramed as follows:
As early as the first century B.C., Cicero had written that supreme law comes from God, but it had never before been
incorporated into such a national public declaration. In this concept, the people recognized that all primary right
rights") is derived directly from the Creator. The Founders' plan was to set up a structure of government
to protect those rights. Since the unalienable rights were understood to belong to the people, the people would grant
to government only those rights and powers they were willing for government to have. Thus government became
the servant of the people. All government was now to be administered through laws made by the people themselves.
This is an example of the Rule of Law (in contrast to the centuries old Rulers' Law).
This new undertaking of self-government by the people, under Providence, burst upon the world stage like a bombshell.
After thousands of years of bondage, people were at last free. Once the people were truly set free, development
in the American colonies exploded and in less than 150 years America became the greatest among all nations
and the undisputed leader of the world.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence, and later the framers of the Constitution in 1787, are not to be
looked upon as originators of all the ideas and principles they adopted. They were, however, the synthesizers and
activators of a long train of political thought. We can truthfully say they "stood on the shoulders of giants" such
as Solon, Aristotle, Polybius, Cicero, Locke, Montesquieu, Hobbes, Hume, Blackstone, and others. They also
drew on political principles and institutions of the Israelites, Greeks, Romans, and later, and most especially, the
The Founders were very knowledgeable about the Magna Carta and the English constitutional tradition, the
Mayflower Compact, colonial charters and "charter rights", the Declaration of Resolves of 1774 and the state
constitutions. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 is of particular note. This was mostly the work of John Adams,
who must be considered the Father of American constitutionalism.
Many of our Founders had classical educations including the reading of Latin. They studied, sifted, and debated
these great ideas of the past. Out of this process evolved a general acceptance of certain basic principles which
came to be known, collectively, as First Principles. Never before had these principles been synthesized as a basis
for a new structure of government for providing order and justice while protecting the liberty of the people.
Among the Founders' FIRST PRINCIPLES* were...
Creator-endowed unalienable rights of the
Purpose of government: To protect the unalienable rights of the people and To protect
the people from violence and fraud;
Natural law−ultimate source of constitutional law;
Rule of law, not of men;
Justice for all;
Innocent of any crime until proven guilty;
No cruel and unusual punishment;
A virtuous and moral people;
People educated to understand the principles of government for a free people;
Government as close to people as possible -- limited federal government; strong
local and state governments;
Separation of powers with checks and balances;
Consitutional limits on government's power to tax and spend;
Economy in spending; prompt payment of public debt;
Money with intrinsic value and standards of weights and measures;
Strong defense capability;
Supremacy of civil over military authority;
Right of the people to keep and bear arms;
Decisions by the majority within a Constitutional framework;
Representative government with free and frequent elections;
Right to speedy trial by jury of peers;
Rights to ownership of private property and encouragement of commerce;
Freedom of religion;
Freedom of individual enterprise;
Freedom of speech and the press;
Freedom of person under the protection of habeas corpus;
Due process of law;
No ex post facto laws or bills of attainder;
No unreasonable searches and seizures;
Grand Jury indictment of capital crimes before a person may be held to account;
Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliancees with
A written constitution -- the supreme law of the land -- prescribing within itself "....
the only lawful methods..." of amendments by its keepers, the people;
No laws giving more favorable treatment for members of Congress and other
government officials than for the citizens.
With these First Principles in mind, our Founding Fathers in the Constitutional Convention
of 1787 in Philadelphia produced, after long and difficult debate, the United States Constitution. This great work has been
termed the MIRACLE AT PHILADELPHIA
Sir William Gladstone, the eminent English statesman, said that this new constitution was "The most wonderful
work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man." Contrary to some 20th century thinking,
the United States Constitution was not designed for just an 18th century agrarian society. It was based on the
Founders' understanding of the nature of man and is driven by an enduring philosophy and a set of principles essential
to liberty for any society for any time.
The real threat to our country does not come from abroad but from within. Andrew Jackson's statement on this point in 1837
is probably without parallel:
"You have no longer any cause to fear danger from abroad.... It is from within,
among yourselves, from cupidity, from corruption, from disappointed ambition, and inordinate thirst for power
that....[liberty will be] in danger. It is against such design....that you have especially to guard yourselves.
You have the highest of human trusts committed to your care. Providence has showered on
this favored land blessings without number and has chosen you as the guardians of freedom to preserve
it for the benefit of the human race.... I thank God that my life has been spent in a land of
The belief of the editors is that the principles which made it possible for America to become greatest among all
nations in such a short period of time are the same principles that will keep America great down through the ages.
Will we be able to keep this greatness that has characterized America? This depends on you, your understanding,
and your actions in measuring up to your responsibilities as part of WE THE PEOPLE.
We hope this book will excite, encourage and help you in this endeavor.
- W. David Stedman*
This list of First Principles is not necessarily exhaustive, although it is intended to be as extensive as we can make it after consultation with others. Different scholars would
perhaps state some of the principles differently or perhaps add some or go into greater detail in some instances. We only submit this list as our best effort to describe the
specific nature of the First Principles. There is no order of priority in the list, and the numbers assigned to them have no meaning except to provide a quick and easy