How Much Natural Liberty is Given Up to Enter Into Civil Society?

Elisha Williams Public Domain PhotoCALLED UNTO LIBERTY, FOUNDING ERA SERMONS, ELISHA WILLIAMS

In the course of a 1744 sermon, Reverend Elisha Williams, taught that the “ends for which men enter into a state of government” are “for the better security of their persons and property,” that they must give up some of their Natural Liberty to acquire this better security, but that the only Natural Liberty given up comes on two heads (described below) and ought to be strictly limited to “so much … and no more”.

Here is what the good reverend taught:

What liberty or power belonging to man as he is a reasonable creature does every man give up to the civil government whereof he is a member? Some part of their natural liberty they do certainly give up to the government, for the benefit of society and mutual defence (for in a political society every one even an infant has the whole force of the community to protect him), and something therefore is certainly given up to the whole for this purpose. Now the way to know what branches of natural liberty are given up, and what remain to us after our admission into civil society, is to consider the ends for which men enter into a state of government. For so much liberty and no more is departed from, as is necessary to secure those ends; the rest is certainly our own still. And here I suppose with the before-mentioned noble assertor of the liberties of humane nature; all that is given up may be reduced to two heads.

1st. The power that every one has in a state of nature to do whatever he judgeth fit, for the preservation of his person and property and that of others also, within the permission of the law of nature, he gives up to be regulated by laws made by the society, so far forth as the preservation of himself (his person and property) and the rest of that society shall require.

And, 2. The power of punishing he wholly gives up, and engages his natural force (which he might before employ in the execution of the law of nature by his own single authority as he thought fit) to assist the executive power of the society as the law thereof shall require. For (he adds) being now in a new state wherein he is to enjoy many conveniencies, from the labour assistance and society of others in the same community, as well as protection from its whole strength; he is to part also with as much of his natural liberty and providing for himself, as the good and safety of the society shall require; which is not only necessary but just, since the other members of the society do the like. Now if the giving up these powers be sufficient to answer those ends for which men enter into a state of government, viz. the better security of their persons and properties; then no more is parted with; and therefore all the rest is ours still. This I rest on as certain, that no more natural liberty or power is given up than is necessary for the preservation of person and property.

Makes sense to me.


Source: Elisha Williams, excerpt from his “The Essential Rights and Liberties of Protestants,” 1744. Introductory and other comments by Steve Farrell.


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Called Unto Liberty is researched, compiled, and edited (with occasional introductory notes and commentary by The Moral Liberal Founder and Editor In Chief, Steve Farrell.


The Moral Liberal recommends Ezra Taft Benson’s: The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner