Common Sense Nation - Encounter Books

Common Sense Nation

Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea

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Publication Details

Hardcover / 232 pages
ISBN: 1-59403-825-2
PUBLISHED: 11/24/2015


Common Sense Nation
Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This sentence is perfectly familiar. We know it as a core principle of our founding. But few, if any of us consider why Jefferson wrote it in exactly this way. Why “unalienable rights” and not simply rights? Why “self-evident” truths and not simply truths? Why does the Declaration make these distinctions? Do they really matter?

If these questions are challenging or Jefferson’s words seem esoteric, it is because we no longer conduct our politics in the language of the Founders and we are no longer able to think as they thought. In Congress and the media, political arguments are advanced by a torrent of policy studies and “expert” opinions—not on the basis of self-evident truths, unalienable rights, and definitely not in the language of the Founders.

Common Sense Nation is a potent reintroduction to the political ideas of the Founders—in their own words and on their terms. It is dedicated to the proposition that the only way to fully unlock the profound and distinctive power of American self-government is to understand it as its inventors did. Common Sense Nation reclaims the language of liberty from entities that prefer to interpret our freedoms for us. For in knowing the Founders as they knew themselves, readers will learn the surprising depths of their own political powers as American citizens.


About the Author

Robert Curry serves on the Board of Directors of the Claremont Institute. His reviews and articles have appeared in the Claremont Review of Books, The Federalist, The American Thinker, The View From 1776, and Victor Hanson’s Private Papers.

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Excerpt

At the age of 25 in 1776, Madison was a newly-elected delegate appointed to the committee to prepare a constitution and a declaration of rights for Virginia.

Because of his youth and junior status, he kept a very low profile on the committee—until the work on the declaration of rights came to the issue of religious conscience. George Mason, who dominated the committee’s proceedings, proposed “the fullest Toleration in the exercise of religion.”

But toleration did not go nearly far enough for Madison, and Mason’s proposal aroused him to action. He proposed instead that religious liberty be declared, in his words, “a natural and absolute right.”
Madison, you see, was a true revolutionary. The Revolution for him was not simply a matter of replacing the Colonial government with a new, indigenous government in order to address issues of taxation and trade and, like the Virginia colony, enact its own Toleration Act. The Bill of Rights makes this clear. Drafted by Madison, it forbade Congress even to legislate about an established religion. America was not going to have an official and preferred religion. Here are the first ten words of the Bill of Rights, as found in the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

Madison was fighting for a radical re-conception of the relationship of mankind and the state. For Madison, liberty of conscience is a natural and unalienable right of the individual. And, according to the Founders, so it is for all of our rights. The eminent philosopher Daniel Robinson got it just right in his brilliant paper “Do the people of the United States form a nation?”

“The rights in question are not the gift of enlightened government nor an offshoot of the Magna Carta, nor some sort of compact or social contract. The rights were there all along, and no government can claim validity or authenticity or the fidelity of the governed unless it is based on just this recognition.”

“The rights were there all along.” That is to say, our rights are inherent, part of our nature as human beings, unalienable.

In order to understand the Founders, we need to recognize their intent: to design America’s government guided by this new understanding of the nature of our rights, and, insofar as possible, to design government so as to protect and preserve those rights.

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