God’s Law the Foundation of Free Government

by Carolyn Alder

How is it possible that the United States of America became the greatest nation in the history of the world, and in a remarkably short period of time?  I believe that it is because our Founding Fathers were able to design an ingenious charter of freedom, based on true and righteous principles, the Constitution of the United States.

How is it possible that the Founding Fathers created a system of government which provided ultimate freedom and prosperity?  I believe that they were extensive researchers, great thinkers, effective communicators, and seekers of truth and inspiration.  They had prepared themselves many years, for the great opportunity they were given, to design a system of government which they believed would secure freedom, liberty, and prosperity for themselves and their posterity.

In the marvelous book, The Five Thousand Year Leap, by Dr. W. Cleon Skousen, he explains that the Founders were all amazingly well read, and although their formal schooling varied greatly, there was remarkable unanimity in their fundamental beliefs. 1  He attributes this to their quest for knowledge in numerous fields:

“…the debates in the Constitutional Convention and the writings of the Founders reflect a far broader knowledge of religious, political, historical, economic, and philosophical studies.”

“The thinking of Polybius, Cicero, Thomas Hooker, Coke, Montesquieu, Blackstone, John Locke, and Adam Smith salt-and-peppered their writings and their conversations.  They were also careful students of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and even though some did not belong to any Christian denomination, the teachings of Jesus were held in universal, respect and admiration.” 2

Dr. Skousen has formulated the Founders fundamental beliefs into 28 Principles of Liberty.  The 1st Principle is: “The only reliable basis for sound government and just human relations is Natural Law.” 3

Dr. Skousen cites the writings of Cicero as authority for this 1st principle of liberty:

“Marcus Tullius Cicero was the Founders’ favorite expositor of Natural Law.  In the Founders’ roster of great political thinkers, Cicero was high on the list.” 4

Describing Cicero, Dr. Skousen quotes Dr. William Ebenstein of Princeton:

“The only Roman political writer who has exercised enduring influence throughout the ages is Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.)…Cicero studied law in Rome, and philosophy in Athens…He became the leading lawyer of his time and also rose to the highest office of state (Roman Consul)… 5

Cicero…was a victim of turbulent power politics, but in his writings On the Republic and On the Laws he had projected the grandeur and promise of some future society based on Natural Law.

“Cicero spoke of building a society on principles of Natural Law by recognizing and identifying the rules of ‘right conduct’ with the laws of the Supreme Creator of the universe.  He recognized the “brilliant intelligence of a supreme Designer with an ongoing interest in both human and cosmic affairs….that once the reality of the Creator is clearly identified in the mind, the only intelligent approach to government, justice, and human relations is in terms of the laws which the Supreme Creator has already established.  The Creator’s order of things is called Natural Law.” 6

So, Cicero defined Natural Law as “right conduct” according to the laws established by the Supreme Creator, or “the Creator’s order of things.”  He goes on to describe it as “true law”:

“True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting;…It is a sin to try to alter this law, nor is it allowable to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely.  We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people,…one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is God, over us all, for he is the author of this law,…” 7

Simply stated, Cicero says God’s law is “true law” and man’s laws, of “right conduct,” are obligated to conform to God’s law.

Let’s look at a similar phrase, found in the first paragraph of The Declaration of Independence.

“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Violations of these laws, the laws of nature and of nature’s God, was the reason the Founders declared they must separate themselves from Great Britain and that they were entitled to establish themselves among the powers of the earth as a separate and equal station.

I like how David Barton in his booklet, “The Spirit of the Revolution” explains that sadly we have lost the concept of “…the laws of nature and of nature’s God…”

“Today, these eight words seem to carry no special significance (certainly not enough to justify a revolution), but in their day, that eight-word phrase described a complete philosophy of life.

Yet, even in our era, we, too, have phrases more expressive than their literal wording.  For example, the phrase “secular humanism.”  Secular humanism currently represents much more than just two words, it describes a philosophy which identifies a widespread movement which embraces specific beliefs and has a declared agenda.” 8

I believe that it is by design that the principles of the Founders’ have not only been removed from society and education, but they have intentionally been replaced with the opposite philosophy.  This discussion of the postmodernism philosophy will need to be saved for another paper. 9

So what is the philosophy of life described in the Declaration’s phrase, “the laws of nature and of nature’s God”?

The best way we can understand the meaning of that phrase is to turn to the source largely responsible for those words.  Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780).  He was an English judge and law professor who authored the four-volume Commentaries on the Laws of England.

Itroduced in 1766, Blackstone’s became the law book of the Founding Fathers.  In fact, political scientists have shown that Blackstone was one of two most frequently invoked political authorities of the Founders. 10

I will expound on this modern scientific political science study later.

Blackstone explains “the laws of nature”:

“Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator, for he is entirely a dependent being…And consequently, as man depends absolutely upon his Maker for everything, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his Maker’s will.  This will of his Maker is called the law of nature.

…This law of nature, being coeval (coexistent) with mankind and dictated by God Himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other.  It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times; no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this.” 11

So, Blackstone said, “the laws of nature” are the will of God for man.  Blackstone continued:

“And if our reason were always…clear and perfect…the task would be pleasant and easy; we should need no other guide but the (the law of nature).  But every man now finds the contrary in his own experience; that his reason is corrupt, and his understanding full of ignorance and error.  This has given manifold occasion for the benign interposition of Divine Providence; which…hath been pleased, at sundry times and in diverse manners, to discover and enforce its laws by an immediate and direct revelation.  The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the Holy Scriptures.” 12

Summarizing Blackstone’s second phrase, “the laws of nature’s God” are the reveled or divine law, God’s law, found in the Holy Scriptures.  Blackstone’s conclusion couples these two phrases:

“Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation (the law of nature’s God), depend all the human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.” 13

Nowadays, if we said “the laws of nature” many people would think we are advocating doing what ever comes naturally, or perhaps whatever the animals might do.  There seems to be little relevance to absolute truth or God’s Law.  To some modern philosophers, man’s law is supreme.  Everything is evolving, and people, legislatures, and courts do not seem to be concerned with consequences now or in the hereafter.

David Barton, in his book “Original Intent” explains the importance of God’s law and Blackstone on the Founding Fathers.

“Blackstone’s influence is not only apparent in our American government documents, the Commentaries became the major foundation for the American system of jurisprudence for decades.  The fundamental precept was that civil laws could not contradict the laws of God revealed either through nature or the Bible.” 14

It is amazing to note the homogeneity of these two great thinkers centuries apart!  For both Cicero (106-43 BC)  Natural Law, and Blackstone (1723-1780) the Laws of Nature, the root of the source of both of their political theories was God as the Supreme Creator and obeying His laws!

Dr. Skousen explains,

“These concepts were repeated by the American Founders a thousand times.  The Law of Nature or nature’s God is eternal in its basic goodness; it is universal in its application.  It is a code of “right reason” from the Creator himself.  It cannot be altered.  It cannot be repealed.  It cannot be abandoned by legislators or the people themselves, even thought they may pretend to do so…we are dealing with factors of absolute reality…totally correct and morally right…” 15

So back to the previously mentioned scientific study of primary original sources quoted by the Founding Fathers in their writings.  This research was conducted by Donald S. Lutz, “The Origins of American Constitutionalism,” 1988.  This study as explained by David Barton:

A group of contemporary political scientists embarked on an ambitious ten-year project (beginning in the early 1970’s) to analyze the political writings from the Founding Era (1760-1805).  Those writings were examined with the goal of isolating and identifying the specific political sources cited amidst the debates in the establishment of American government.

From the 15,000 representative writings selected, the researchers first isolated some 3,154 quotations and then documented the original sources.  Baron Charles de Montesquieu a French attorney and author was the most frequently invoked political source 8.3%,  from his (1748) Spirit of Laws.  The second most frequently quoted was Blackstone 7.9%. 16

Perhaps to their amazement, what the researchers discovered:

“[T]hat one direct source of inspiration for their ideas was cited far and away more than any other.  In fact, the Founders cited this source four times more often than either Montesquieu or Blackstone and twelve times more often than Lock.  What was that source?  It was the Bible-accounting for 34 percent of the direct quotes in the political writings of the Founding Era.” 17

How do we know that the Founding Fathers understood these concepts and applied these principles?   I would like to share a few of their statements.

“All (laws), however, may be arranged in two different classes. 1) Divine. 2) Human…But it should always be remembered that this law, natural or revealed, made for men or for nations, flows from the same Divine source: it is the law of God…Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is Divine.”18   James Wilson 1804, (Signer both the Declaration of Independence & the Constitution, and a U.S. Supreme Court Justice)

“The law…dictated by God Himself is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this.” 19  Alexander Hamilton Feb 23, 1775

“[The] ‘Law of nature’ is a rule of conduct arising out of the natural relations of human beings established by the Creator and existing prior to any positive precept (human law)…these…have been established by the Creator and are, with a peculiar felicity of expression, denominated in Scripture, “ordinances of heaven.” 20  Noah Webster  (America’s school master, Author of 1st American English Dictionary, authored Art. 1 Section 8 of U.S. Constitution.)

“Our citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible,…particularly the New Testament, or the Christian religion.” 21  Noah Webster

“The education of youth should be watched with the most scrupulous attention. It is much easier to introduce and establish an effectual system…than to correct by penal statutes the ill effects of a bad system…The education of youth… lays the foundations on which both law and gospel rest for success.” 22  Noah Webster

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.  For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.” 23  Patrick Henry (5 time Governor of Virginia)

The last quote, which I love, and have memorized comes from the “Father of our Country,”  George Washington’s famous promise, the key to political prosperity from his Farewell address.  The greatness of this country depend upon two principles;  religion and morality:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.  In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens.  The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them.  A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity.  Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.  Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

‘Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.  The rule indeed   extends with more or less force to every species of free Government.  Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric.” 24 George Washington  Farewell Address

I want to end where I began, that I am so thankful for the wisdom of our Founding Fathers that they could through study,  reason, experience, seeking truth and inspiration of heaven recognized eternal principles and were able to design a structure of government for themselves and their posterity, which resulted in the United States of America becoming the greatest nation on earth!

1.  W. Cleon Skousen, The Five Thousand Year Leap p. 32

2.  W. Cleon Skousen, The Five Thousand Year Leap p. 32;

(I wonder if Dr. Skousen could mean Richard Hooker 1554-1600 see David Barton’s Original Intent p 219.)

3.  W. Cleon Skousen, The Five Thousand Year Leap p. 37

4.  W. Cleon Skousen, The Five Thousand Year Leap p. 38

5.  W. Cleon Skousen, The Five Thousand Year Leap p. 38

6.  W. Cleon Skousen, The Five Thousand Year Leap p. 38

7.  W. Cleon Skousen, The Five Thousand Year Leap p. 40

8.  David Barton,  The Spirit of the American Revolution p.3

9.  Allen Quist, Textbook Review of the Center for Civic Education’s High School Version of We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution & FAQ About the Federal Curriculum  p. 3

10.  David Barton, The Spirit of the American Revolution p. 4

11.  David Barton, The Spirit of the American Revolution p. 4

12.  David Barton, The Spirit of the American Revolution p. 4

13.  David Barton, The Spirit of the American Revolution p. 5

14.  David Barton, Original Intent, p. 217

15.  W. Cleon Skousen, The Five Thousand Year Leap p. 40

16.  David Barton, Original Intent,  p. 214;

Donald S. Lutz, The Origins of American Constitutionalism, Louisiana State University Press,   p. 142

17.  David Barton, Original Intent, p. 225

18.  David Barton, Original Intent,  p. 488; Works of the Honorable James Wilson,1804, Vol. 1, pp103-105, “Of the General principles of Law and Obligation.”

19.  David Barton, Original Intent,  p. 488; The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Vol. 1, p. 87, Feb. 23, 1775

20.  David Barton, Original Intent, p. 225; p. 470, Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language 1828, “law,” definition #3 & #6.

21.  David Barton, Original Intent, p. 336; p. 488, Noah Webster, History of the United States, 1832, p. 6

22.  David Barton, Original Intent, p.340; p. 489, Noah Webster, Schoolmaster to America pp.181-82.

23.  William J. Federer, America’s God and Country, p. 289, p. 762, M. E. Bradford, The Trumpet Voice of Freedom: Patrick Henry of Virgina, Plymouth Rock Foundation, p. iii;  David Barton, The Myth of Separation, pp. 25, 158

24.  George Washington  Farewell Address (Published Sept. 19th 1796 in Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser.)