Maxims of American Law

Natural-Law copyright by Anthony Hargis

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In the midst of the American Revolution, the inhabitants of Berkshire County in western Massachusetts felt that the principles of the Revolution were not sufficiently well defined, and “seceded” from the state.  The state legislature responded by sending an emissary to the county.  He addressed a meeting of the county inhabitants and declared that they were being highly irresponsible for demanding (a) that they retain their rights upon entering society; (b) that a constitution should be written, then a government formed; (c) that a government exercise authority delegated by a constitution and none others.  He informed them “that your present opposition against government is groundless, disreputable, and highly injurious to the peace and safety of the county.” (Hyneman, Am. Pol. 463)  The emissary spoke from the perspective of canon law, or the law of revelation (of which the basis is, Deut, xx, 10-18), and the Berkshire inhabitants spoke from the perspective of the law of nature, which was to become the basis of American law.  (Declaration of Independence)

Canon law was engrafted onto the English common law with the introduction of Christianity into the English isles; and, to this day, almost every commentator confuses canon law with English law.

The complaints of the Berkshire inhabitants led to the promulgation of the Essex Results, which became the political basis for the newly emerging American Union.

To this day, few, if any at all, understand, or are even aware of, the difference between American law and canon law, and imagine the former to be derived from the latter.  American law comprises the principles of liberty while canon law comprises the very opposite: the principles of despotism.  They may be summarized as follows.

1)   The major “principles of American law” are

A.     people retain their rights, which governments are “intended” to protect (but never do);

B.     constitutions are created by the people and before the organization of government;

C.     constitutions are amendable only by authority of the people, not the legislature;

D.     the judiciary can void acts of the legislature and

E.      citizens may freely change their status.

2)   The corresponding “principles of canon law” are

A.     people renounce their rights before receiving “protection” from government;

B.     constitutions are created after the formation of government and by the government;

C.     constitutions are amendable only by the legislature;

D.     the judiciary is subordinate to the legislature and cannot void acts thereof and

E.      subjects are regarded as permanent fixtures of the soil, and bought and sold as such.

So, why do we need Maxims of American law?  As far as we are concerned, there are three levels of law: the unwritten (or natural) law; constitutional law; and statute law.  Their standing relative to each other is in the order given.

A legislature is the source of statute law and has no authority but what is delegated to it by a constitution.  And, a legislature has no authority to alter a constitution.

A constitution is an enactment of the people; is alterable only by them; is declaratory of their rights (see the preamble to the Bill of Rights); and limits the authority of the government created thereby to the powers expressly delegated.

The law of nature is the status in which American Founders stood when they wrote their declarations and constitutions.  They delegated authority from natural-law status to constitutional status.  At the same time, they reserved their rights in natural-law status.  Where else could they reserve their rights?

For such delegations of authority and reservations of rights to have any meaning, the status of Founders (and “we the people”) has to be superior to constitutional status; otherwise, the Revolution was an empty gesture.

Hence, if a constitution is to have meaning – if it is to serve a purpose, it must be inferior to the law of nature – and the government created by the constitution can have no authority to alter the common law.

The difference between natural law and common law is that the latter is a collection of judicial decisions derived from principles of natural law.

And so, since an American government cannot alter a constitution, it also cannot alter a “law” that is superior to constitutional status.  (The reader familiar with American law will recognize a problem here: American courts routinely ridicule and ignore common-law rules.  Thus, if we want the protections promised by constitutions, we have a major project on our hands.)

So, now we come to the question, ‘What is the law of nature?’  If we want to understand constitutional law, we know where to go.  We read a particular constitution and official declarations of the Founding Era.

If we want to understand the law of nature we have to go to two major sources: official declarations of the Founding Era and maxims of private men consistent with such declarations.

Maxims are the writings of private men that have been woven into the fabric of society by long usage and widespread acceptance.  While a constitution is ratified by a formal and one-time vote of the people, the law of nature is ratified by the common usage and acceptance of each particular maxim.  Thus, a constitution is relatively inflexible and tends to become obsolete.  The law of nature, if people understand its principles, is flexible and evolves with man’s understanding of his society.  It is in this manner that maxims are ratified by a society and become its compact – a manner far more certain and far more fundamental than the ratification of any constitution.  And so, contained in this booklet is a sampling of maxims from several men that provided guidance to the founders of the American experiment, or that are consistent with the cause of man.

One more thing, the maxims contained in this booklet are filtered by my sense of life, and are intended as an introduction only.  Other men will accept, enlarge or reject my selections as they please.

Here are a few maxims contained in the collection, Maxims of American Law, (110 pp (5.5 x 8.5), $15 (plus p & h).  Order instructions.

A bad man [whose reason is perverted] will do ten thousand times as much evil as a brute [who has no reason].  [Brackets added] Aristotle, N. E., VII, 6, 1150a, 7.

A belief devoted to bloody sacrifices does not inspire virtue.  Gibbon, 150.

Any man long an exile is not fit for public office.  Macauley, Hist., I, 155-73; Hist. Hist, xx, 233-4.

Designatio unius est exclusio alterius, et expressum facit cessare tacitum.  The appointment or designation of one is the exclusion of another; and that expressed makes that which is implied cease.  Co. Litt. 210.

Failure to comprehend facts of reality is the essence of dementia; refusal to comprehend them, the essence of evil.

Great is the honor bestowed, not on him who kills a thief, but on him who kills a tyrant.  Aristotle, Politics, ii, 7, 1267a, 15.

Impress it on the mind of any man he can do no wrong¸ and he will soon convince you of your mistake.  Joel Barlow, 1792; Am. Pol., 817.

It is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own causes.  Locke, Two Treatise, ii, 13.

Multitudo errantium non parit errori patrocinium.  The multitude of those who err is no excuse for error.  11 Co. 75.

Nothing is so evil as militant ignorance.  Thomas Jefferson.

Power is abused according to length of office.  See Tacitus, History, 4.48.

Reason exposes evil, faith conceals it.  See Durant, viii, 624.

Self-sufficient is that which, when isolated, makes life desirable and lacking in nothing.  [D]  Aristotle, N. E., I, 7, 1097b, 14.

There is greatest safety in crimes that are most complicated, or most horrid; for, there are no words to describe them.  [L]  See Cato’s Letters, #126.

Those who hope for a future existence are dead in this one.  See Goethe in Unger, Goethe’s, 55; Durant, x, 620.

What was the end of killing the tyrant, but to be free from tyranny?  A ridiculous motive, and an empty exploit, if our slavery survive him.  [V]  Cato’s Letters, #23, p. 169.


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