• Like the Declaration of Independence, the North Carolina State Constitution recognizes that every person has equal, God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
  • North Carolina wisely recognizes another: the God-given right to the enjoyment of the fruits of one’s own labor
  • Why this addition is so important is because, especially for the poor, their labor is the starting point for gaining wealth

The very reason for government is, as the Founders made clear in the Declaration of Independence, to defend and protect (“secure”) everyone’s God-given rights. The government of North Carolina is well instituted to secure these individual rights. Read Article I, Section 1 of the North Carolina State Constitution:

Section 1. The equality and rights of persons.

We hold it to be self-evident that all persons are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor, and the pursuit of happiness.

Does that wording sound familiar? It should. It’s a liberal borrowing from the Declaration of Independence:

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.

There are a couple of differences, and they are very important. First, in North Carolina, the self-evident truths are not just undergirding and informing the thinking that produced the Constitution, they are a very part of our state Constitution.

Life. Liberty. Pursuit of happiness. The truth of all of these rights is recognized to be self-evident — so obviously true that it doesn’t require formal exercises or government blue-ribbon commissions to try to prove it.

Life. Liberty. Pursuit of happiness. The truth of all of these rights is recognized to be self-evident — so obviously true that it doesn’t require formal exercises or government blue-ribbon commissions to try to prove it.

The original grand trifecta of rights was life, liberty, and property — famously elucidated by John Locke. Locke’s political philosophy greatly influenced Thomas Jefferson and his writing of the Declaration of Independence, which in turn influenced the North Carolina State Constitution’s declaration of individual rights.

These rights are not only self-evidently true, but also they are endowments (i.e., gifts) from Creator God to all persons, equally. As obvious gifts from the Creator, these individual rights are therefore inalienable — a term that means “not capable of being taken away or denied” as well as “not transferable to any other.”

North Carolina recognizes one more self-evident gift of God to each of us: the right to the enjoyment of the fruits of our own labor.

North Carolina is bang on the money with including that inalienable individual right. As Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations (Book I, Chapter X, Part II):

The property which every man has in his own labour, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable.

Your first property is yourself, but after that, your work is the starting point for all your other property. A just government absolutely would protect and defend your ownership of the fruits of your own labor.

Consider the alternative: If not you, who otherwise could have a moral claim to the fruits of your labor? Your ownership of your own labor is “most sacred and inviolable,” which is synonymous with God-given and inalienable. This recognition encapsulates Locke’s right to property and gives it a crucial context.

Smith continued:

The patrimony of a poor man lies in the strength and dexterity of his hands; and to hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbor, is a plain violation of this most sacred property.

There Smith has a test for government protection of the fruits of people’s own labor. Does the state champion or interfere in a person’s ability to live by his own labor, provided he’s not harming his neighbors?

It’s a tough test, and one North Carolina has frequently failed throughout history, even today. When, for example, do government regulations, occupational licensing, burdensome taxes, and government favoritism helping some providers of labor at the expense of others cross the line? When do they stop protecting people from injury and instead plainly violate this most sacred property?

Nevertheless, failing to meet a high standard does not in any way diminish or obviate the standard itself. The North Carolina State Constitution does well by enshrining protection for people’s rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the enjoyment of their own labor. From one generation to the next, North Carolina leaders should strive to achieve these standards to their utmost.

History is littered with dull and dark regimes that chose instead to treat people as disposable according to the passing whims of temporary political leaders. Ensuring that government protects people’s God-given rights is a sacred duty, and one that requires no less an understanding what the choice ultimately means as President Abraham Lincoln’s: “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”