Our Founders took seriously the idea that all Americans had natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of property. The Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution spells out many of these natural rights. Free speech, for example, was part of this bundle of rights, because we needed free speech to protect our right to life, liberty, and property.
Where did these rights come from? Our Founders had the answer: “We are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights.” In other words, God, not the state, gave us our natural rights. In the Ten Commandments, our right to life is protected with “Thou shall not kill.” Our right to property is protected with “Thou shall not steal.” God is the source of our liberty.
Our current leaders profess to see a new right to health care. If so, that right is fundamentally different from a right to free speech or a right to liberty, because a right to health care imposes an obligation on society to spend tax dollars for this right. That means others must pay taxes to fulfill someone else’s right to health care.
If we do have a right to health care, when did society recognize such a right? The answer, as I describe in FDR Goes to War, is January 11, 1944. That was the day when President Franklin Roosevelt talked about a second bill of rights in his State of the Union message. Roosevelt announced a “right to adequate medical care” and also rights to “a useful and remunerative job,” rights of every family to “a decent home” and a right to a “good education.” That means, according to FDR, that society has an obligation to tax its citizens to give everyone, regardless of talent or work ethic, their alleged rights to a good education, adequate medical care, a decent home, and a remunerative job. What’s left of anyone else’s property or liberty after taxes are collected for these rights is not made clear. However, FDR supported a tax rate of over 90% on large incomes during the time he announced these rights.
Our Founders, by contrast, believed that we had liberties until we infringed on other people’s property. Our current crop of infringers would do well to study the first Bill of Rights before attempting to fulfill FDR’s second bill of rights.