Thomas Jefferson, through his theory of Inalienable Rights, believed that nature has created all men equal and people have natural rights that cannot be bought, sold or transferred to another unless otherwise ceded or transferred to the sovereign or a government. He also espoused that to protect these inalienable rights, individuals consent to form a government, which would preserve these rights. Jefferson enumerated these rights as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The right of life is the right of protecting life, the right of liberty is the right to enjoy freedom and the pursuit of happiness is the right of seeking for happiness for all. These inalienable rights were pointed out due to the oppression the Americans felt under British colonial rule. This oppression led the American people to declare their rights and to separate itself from the British crown to form their own government that will recognize, preserve and protect their inalienable rights. The laws of nature that Jefferson alluded to are laws that must be followed and are universal to all as they are determined by nature, religion or right reason.
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The first contract according to Jefferson was between the American people and the British sovereign that ruled over them and as such should have worked for the preservation of these inalienable rights. Jefferson contended that British colonial rule in America was despotic and thus could not preserve and protect the rights of the people. He believed that people have the right to reject any government that did not honor, preserve and protect the natural rights of the people and establish a new government that could. The effect of this despotic rule was the termination of the contract through the declaration of independence and the formation of a new government. With the declaration of independence, Jefferson espoused the formation of a second contract. This contract was created by the American people to preserve their inalienable rights with a new form of government that is ruled by the people. This new contract must be accepted because it is one formed between the people and a government whose rule rests on the authority of the people for the people. This is what is known as popular sovereignty or democracy.
Jefferson believed that this new contract is the best form of government as it is one that is, with the consent of the people, ruled by the people for the rights of the people or self-governance. The relationship of the individual and the sovereign people is intertwined. The individual has inalienable rights and self-government or sovereign people what is essential to these ensure these rights. The individual ensures one’s rights through personal self-governance. Sovereign people are a collective self-governance for the good of all Americans. Here, an individual relinquishes his individual freedom by entrusting it to a popular sovereignty that is established to protect and further the cause of these rights. On the other hand, one stands to gain civil liberties within a system of laws based on the general consent of the people. This new civil state will assure that all Americans natural rights are allowed, respected, enabled, encouraged and exercised through a stable set of laws that are applicable to all.
Jefferson borrowed much from Rosseau’s social contract theory
From Rosseau, Jefferson espoused a contract between people and not people and a sovereign, a government with the consent of the people for the people. Rosseau believed that the general will is a way of establishing equal rights, privileges and responsibilities as a basis of government. Jefferson believed this too as he espoused that the preservation of inalienable rights was a fundamental element of the social contract and that the general consent of the people was essential in the administration of power by the government. This was adopted into the declaration of independence.
Inalienable rights are the natural rights of an individual, which can only be transferred with the consent of that individual. A citizen is a member of a collective whole and is entitled to rights and privileges. Sovereign people are a collective body of citizens whose consent or will rules. The civil state is a collection of citizens governed by a system of laws and a body directed to administer these laws. Civil liberty is the fundamental rights of individuals protected by laws against interference. It is a citizen’s right.
Natural and civil liberties are both fundamental rights of an individual. Natural liberty however, concerns only the individual and protects only the individual. Civil liberty, on the other hand, concerns the society as a whole and the individual within it. These are the rights of individuals, governed by laws, so that they do not infringe on or interfere with the rights of others. Free will and general will are both the right of voluntary choice. Free will, however, is the right of an individual to make choices free of constraints. General will, on the other hand, is the united will of each individual of the society that symbolises their common interests. Conscience and moral freedom both deal with what is right and what is wrong. Conscience, however, is the awareness of what is right and wrong with the desire to choose what is right. Moral freedom is the capacity to make right choices, most especially for the good of all.
It is my understanding that the social contract was aimed at protecting both the sovereign people and individual rights. Since an individual has innate rights and will ensure that these rights are protected, an individual gives his consent to transfer one’s individual rights by entrusting them to a popular sovereignty that is established to protect and further the cause of these rights and to ensure that each individual’s right is preserved and protected in society.