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Natural Law and the United States Constitution
The Review of Metaphysics (2012)
  • Robert S. Barker, Duquesne University School of Law

The United States Constitution was written for the purpose of establishing an effective but limited national government, a government that would be capable of dealing with national and international problems, but that would not be able to violate the traditional liberties of the people. Thus, the Constitution was, and is essentially a practical-juridical document. One should not expect to find there pronouncements about the nature of man, society, law, or the state, such as are often found in many other national constitutions and international conventions. Nevertheless, several important characteristics of the Constitution -- indeed its most important characteristics -- are clear and admirable applications of the Natural Law.

The principal drafters of the Constitution believed that God, in creating the universe, implanted in the nature of man a body of law to which all human beings are subject, which is superior to all manmade law, and which is knowable by human reason. Thus, the Natural Law of the American Founders was traditional National Law as understood and expounded by classical and Medieval writers and carried forward in the English Common Law, and not the “Enlightenment” versions in vogue in eighteenth-century Europe.

The classical-traditional Natural Law understanding of Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, and other leaders of the Philadelphia Convention are reflected in the three most important characteristics of the Constitution: the principle of limited government; the principle of subsidiarity (in both political and larger societal matters); and the practice of guaranteeing traditional rights, and only as against government.

  • natural law,
  • United States Constitution
Publication Date
September, 2012
Publisher Statement
Previously published in The Review of Metaphysics 66 (September 2012).
Citation Information
Robert S. Barker. "Natural Law and the United States Constitution" The Review of Metaphysics Vol. 66 (2012)
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