The History of Liberty

Authored By: Mike Sonneveldt

The History of Liberty

The History of Liberty 

We tell ourselves that if we are in Christ, then we are free. But do we understand what true liberty means? Do we understand that liberty was a gift from God given as a right? 

To show you the development of God-given liberty in Western civilization, I won’t start at the beginning. Instead, we’re going to start with a document that every American should love and cherish. 


The Declaration of Independence 

Our Declaration of Independence makes quite a powerful statement.  

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. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” 

In other words, our government, put in place by men, derives its justified powers from those same men. More importantly, that government was instituted among men to secure our rights. Not to provide us with welfare. Not to give us safety and comfort. Not to do everything for us. Our founder's most fundamental philosophy about government in America is that government is instituted to protect our rights. However, the government does not give those rights. Their only job is to protect the rights GOD GAVE US! 

Following the truth that our inalienable (non-transferable) RIGHTS come from God and are protected by government is a short list of rights laid out by the founders in the Declaration of Independence. Those vital rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Let’s take a step back and simplify what the preamble means. In summary, it says: 

“There are certain truths that are just ‘duh’ statements.” Those truths include the following: 

  1. Men are created equal 
  2. God gives men rights that cannot be transferred or stolen 
  3. Those rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness 
  4. Governments were put there to protect rights. 


This means that it should be a duh thing to all of us that men are equal, God gave all those men certain rights that can’t be taken or transferred, those rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that governments were put in place by men to protect those rights. 


What is the government for? To protect those RIGHTS.  

Included in those rights is liberty. The idea of truly being free in your person, conscience, and action. The right to liberty is the truest sense of freedom within the self and a person’s expression of themselves. 

But how did they get to this idea that liberty mattered? 

Does the church need to concern itself with liberty? 


What is Liberty? 

Plenty of governments across time have provided some sort of recognition of rights. Usually, those rights were not recognized as being given by God but as a blessing from a government viewing itself as a god. 

However, western civilization had a major moment that changed the landscape of governance for all time. A government, which viewed itself as having a divine right to authority, found itself forced to recognize that the people had value and themselves held some form of rights. 


The History of the Magna Carta 

During the early 1200s, King John of England caused quite a stir by warring and feuding with several kings. He pressed for higher taxes on his subjects to support his wars. This forced his officials to become downright oppressive in collecting such taxes. Unfortunately for King John, his barons despised him due to his oppressive and arrogant nature. 

After losing a battle in 1214, the barons had had enough. They forced a meeting with King John. If he wanted to have their support and resources, then he would have to agree to some demands. This was the formation of the Magna Carta. While the document failed, the fact remains that an agreement about rights had been decided between the people and the king. Prior to the Magna Carta, kings had attempted various charters and agreements with their nobles and clergy. However, those charters were a king’s free will promise. 

The elites may have been the first beneficiaries of individual rights, but they were not the only ones. We, as common people today, benefit from the rights the Magna Carta defined. 

Included in the Magna Carta were issues such as: 

  • Right to a fair trial 

  • Placing the king under the rule of law 

  • The property rights of the barons 


The concept of the rights of all people continued to develop over the next several hundred years. After all, the statement “all men are created equal” was not a foregone conclusion throughout Western civilization. 

By the time that statement was written in our Declaration of Independence, the concept of equality of men had been developed by Enlightenment thinkers. Men such as John Locke explored individual sovereignty and individual rights and liberties. 


John Locke and Liberty

Locke became so influential to our founders that his words inspired the Declaration of Independence we cherish today. 

In Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, he begins by arguing that in the natural law or natural state, all men have equality. Locke viewed natural law as that which was the governing law placed into creation by God. To Locke, men under natural law are endowed by God with a state of liberty. However, that liberty ends when it infringes on another man’s rights and liberties. 

Locke said, “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” 

He specifically viewed liberty as the right to steward yourself, what you’ve been given, and what you’ve created. Whatever you think or create, by natural law, is your property. If you take natural resources and mix them with your labor, then you have created private property. Furthermore, liberty is the sovereignty of men over their property, themselves, and their future. 

To protect this concept of liberty, Locke believed governments were put in place to be a protector of our individual rights, which included liberty and possessions. 

Thomas Jefferson said it succinctly by stating, “The policy of American government is to leave its citizens free, neither restraining them nor aiding them in their pursuits.” 

This desire to live under a government that truly protected liberty drove our founders to finally push against the oppressive boot of the British crown. They saw British control of their property as the action of a government no longer concerned with liberty, but the control of its people. 


The Road to Declaring Independence and Liberty 

After 120 years of abuses in which the colonies were continually oppressed with increased restrictions, taxes, and regulations, they finally chose to throw off the yolk of their oppressor. The crown attempted to raise money or control the colonies through their actions which the colonists found extremely offensive. Such gross infringements included (but were not limited to): 

  • The Navigation Acts of 1651: Restricted trade for the colonies to only Britain 

  • King Charles II: Regulated trade and nullified charters when the colonies opposed 

  • Molasses Act of 1733: Forced the colonies to purchase molasses from Britain and not France 

  • Sugar Act 1764: Cut duties on foreign molasses, retained high duty on foreign refined sugar, and prohibited foreign rum 

  • Stamp Act 1765: Required official stamps to be purchased for lots of common documents. 

  • Declaratory Act: Gave full powers over the colonies to parliament 

  • Townshend Acts 1767: Placed duties on common useful goods and put in a board of customs in Boston 

  • Coercive Acts 1774: 4 Laws used to crush the colonies back into submission 

The colonies pushed back at each turn and argued that their rights as English citizens were being abused. After all, the crown chose to not honor either the British Constitution or the Bill of Rights of 1689. 

These unconstitutional acts perpetrated against the 13 colonies drove them to unite as a single entity, represented by a Continental Congress. The Second Continental Congress sent its final petition to resolve the matter in hopes of staving off a war and restoring peace. However, King George III rejected the Olive Branch Petition, labeled them rebels, and parliament passed the American Prohibitory Act. This banned all trade with the colonies and determined to treat all American ships and cargo as an enemy. 

The colonies knew that the decision had been made for them. They wrote the Declaration of Independence to announce before the world that they were separating from England and establishing their nation in the spirit of liberty. 


The Bill of Rights 

Following the war, America chose to create a constitution for themselves. During these debates, the arguments continually revolved around how to provide a framework for a stable government yet protect the liberties and rights of the people. Do not forget, they saw what a government that did not respect liberty could do politically.  

During those debates, a large discussion regarding the inclusion of a bill of rights boiled over. Some argued that writing down any rights would mean the government felt those were the only rights men had. Others argued that not writing them down would mean a government could then believe men had no rights. After all, men are sinful and wicked. 

Eventually, the Constitution was ratified with the promise that a bill of rights would be written by the first Congress. Our nation’s founders held to their word and drafted the Bill of Rights. This document included the first 10 amendments we know today. These rights are considered to be given to us by the divine authority and were written to ensure the government never attempts to infringe on those rights (as well as others not written.) 

Included in the list of 10 amendments are rights such as: 

  • Freedom of religion 

  • Freedom of speech 

  • Freedom of press 

  • Freedom of assembly 

  • Right to petition the government 

  • Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure 

  • Right to speedy trial 

  • Right to not self-incriminate 

  • and more 


Our Role in the Fight for Liberty 

For 248 years, our nation has said it values God-given liberty and the government’s role in protecting that liberty. 

However, what happens if no one actively works to protect against infringement of those rights? While we may believe that our rights are self-evident and therefore will always be protected, the truth is a different matter. We must proactively defend the right to liberty and demand our government do the same. 

Today, our fellow Americans deal with unconstitutional steps from our government at every level. The temptation of new laws, programs, regulations, and personal agendas has rendered the Constitution and the Bill of Rights moot in many situations. People pay lip service to the Constitution as they destroy it. These days, our Bill of Rights seems to be more of an obstacle in the way of government “progress” than it does a bulwark to protect our liberties and rights given to us by our Creator.  

But the church can become the voice upholding our liberties. We as the church should understand freedom and liberty better than any other body or organization. We have the opportunity to uphold God’s law without fear of standing against our nation’s founding documents precisely because the founders wrote the inalienable nature of rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness into our nation’s founding documents. 

This means that we as the church may move forward in our protection of liberty for the defenseless without concern or worry that we may be stepping against a righteous authority. We owe those who are oppressed by men not following our nation’s foundational principles of liberty. We as the church hold the duty to defend liberty, as spelled out by our founding documents and given to us by God. 

Self-Evident Ministries