Secondary Rights

In addition to our primary natural rights of life, liberty, and property, there are also secondary rights that are necessary to ensure those primary rights under a government. John Locke clarified the relationship between men and a just government when he stated:

“…Freedom of men under government is, to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where the rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man: as freedom of nature is, to be under no other restraint but the law of nature. This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power, is so necessary to, and closely joined with a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it, but by what forfeits his preservation and life together: for a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot, by compact, or his own consent, enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another, to take away his life, when he pleases. Nobody can give more power than he has himself: and he that cannot take away his own life, cannot give another power over it.” (Second Treatise on Government, “Of Civil Government”, Book II, Chapter 4, sections 22-23)

In Blackstone’s “An Analysis of the Laws of England” (6th edition, 1771, Book 1, Chapter 1, Section 12), after describing our natural (primary) rights to life, liberty, and property he states:

“Besides these three primary Rights, there are others which are secondary and subordinate; viz. (to preserve the former from unlawful Attacks) 1. The Constitution and Power of Parliaments: 2. The Limitation of the King’s Prerogative:–And, (to vindicate them when actually violated) 3. The regular Administration of publick Justice: 4. The Right of Petitioning for Redress of Grievances: 5. The Right of Having and Using Arms for Self-Defence.”

  1. The Constitution and Power of Parliaments: This describes our right to a common set of agreed-upon laws that bind the government and limit its powers, as well as the right to affect laws (under that Constitution) through representative self-government. Without these conditions, the liberty could not exist and we would live under arbitrary rule.
  2. The Limitation of the King’s Prerogative: In the United States, this is reflected by Constitutional limitations on all branches of government, particularly the Executive Branch. If the prerogative of the Executive (or the other branches) was not constrained by the Constitutional limits, then we could not have liberty and the rule would again be arbitrary.
  3. The Regular Administration of Public Justice: This is a primary purpose of government. If a government does not regularly enforce the agreed-upon laws and judge between citizens according to those laws, the effect would be the same as if there were no government at all—the citizens must rely on their own power to preserve their own rights. As such, irregular or ineffective administration of justice results in the abdication of authority by the government.
  4. The Right of Petitioning for Redress of Grievances: If rights are violated, whether despite or due to government action, there must be a method for correcting those wrongs. Again, this is part of the purpose and contract of government. Failure to provide a method for redress leaves the citizen vulnerable to the mercy and imperfections of the initial administration of justice by the government. This is, perhaps, the most important right in preserving the peace, because it allows disputes to be resolved through an intermediary, rather than through violence (whether the dispute is with another citizen or the government).
  5. The Right of Having and Using Arms for Self-Defense: As John Locke stated, we have a right to defend what the government cannot restore upon appeal and we have the right to use the force of arms necessary to preserve it. This relates primarily to our lives, which cannot be restored by the government when someone takes it. This suggests, all at once, the responsibility of the individual for the preservation of their own life, as well as the impossibility of the government providing security for every citizen at all times. We do not need to throw ourselves at the mercy of our would-be attackers by possessing arms that are inferior to those that would be used against us, thereby forfeiting our right to life.

These are rights that are necessary for the preservation of our natural rights to life, liberty, and property under any government that claims to preserve individual rights. If any of these are absent, the government has already failed in its role of protecting the rights of individuals and thereby abdicates its authority as a government.

“…Wherever the power, that is put in any hands for the government of the people, and the preservation of their properties, is applied to other ends, and made use of to impoverish, harass or subdue them to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those that have it; there it presently becomes tyranny, whether those that thus use it are one or many.

…Wherever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and him whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate; and, acting without authority, may be opposed, as any other man, who by force invades the right of another.” (John Locke, “Of Civil Government, Book II, Chapter 18, sections 201-202)

“Though in a constituted commonwealth, standing upon its own basis, and acting according to its own nature, that is, acting for the preservation of the community, there can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate, yet the legislative being only a fiduciary power to act for certain ends, there remains still in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative, when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them: for all power given with trust for the attaining an end, being limited by that end, whenever that end is manifestly neglected or opposed, the trust must necessarily be forfeited, and the power devolve into the hands of those that gave it, who may place it anew where they shall think best for their safety and security. And thus the community perpetually retains a supreme power of saving themselves from the attempts and designs of any body, even of their legislators, whenever they shall be so foolish or so wicked, as to lay and carry on designs against the liberties and properties of the subject: for no man or society of men, having a power to deliver up their preservation, or consequently the means of it, to the absolute will and arbitrary dominion of another; whenever any one shall go about to bring them into such a slavish condition, they will always have a right to preserve what they have not a power to part with: and to rid themselves of those who invade this fundamental, sacred, and unalterable law of self-preservation, for which they entered into society. And thus the community may be said in this respect to be always the supreme power, but not as considered under any form of government, because this power of the people can never take place till the government be dissolved.” (John Locke, “Of Civil Government, Book II, Chapter 8, section 149)

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