James Otis might have become the foremost thinker of the Founding, except he was brained by a violent Tory in 1769 and was showing signs of mental problems before that. But 'twas James Otis who got the intellectual arguments for the American vision of liberty off to a brilliant start in 1764:
"Government is founded not on force, as was the theory of Hobbes; nor on compact, as was the theory of Locke and of the revolution of 1688; nor on property, as was the assertion of Harrington. It springs from the necessities of our nature, and has an everlasting foundation in the unchangeable will of God."This is the unique American theory of rights as expressed in the Declaration of Independence--the foundation of man's rights is "the laws of nature and of nature's God."
Here the erudite James Otis makes the essential distinction between various "Enlightenment" theories of government and rights [Hobbes and Harrington, yes, even contrary to John Locke!] and the uniquely American vision--our rights come prior to government, we don't negotiate our rights with the government, or with each other:
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.Rights are prior to government, then
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
And must we surrender to government the whole of those absolute rights? But we are to surrender them only -- in trust: -- another brat of dishonest parentage is now attempted to be imposed upon us: but for what purpose? Has government provided for us a superintending court of equity to compel a faithful performance of the trust? If it had; why should we part with the legal title to our rights?"
Here is the fatal flaw of "social contract" theory, the British understanding of rights and government according to Burke and Blackstone and Locke---We barter our natural rights with the government and receive "civil privileges" in return.
Wilson answers his own question, "Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution?"---a "social contract" with government...?
This is the American way.