What do you think Jefferson means in the Declaration when he says people must take take possession for themselves "... among the powers of the earth[,] the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them"? What is he saying about human rights? From where do they come?

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When Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, he was expressing some of the Enlightenment ideals earlier expressed by John Locke. Both men rejected the idea that kings are able to rule by divine right. Jefferson, Locke, and other Enlightenment thinkers promoted the idea that every human being has natural rights. Natural rights are innate and come from either God or nature, and no matter where people are from or where they live, the government does not have the right or the power to withhold those rights; they are inalienable. This is the foundation of natural law.

The other side of the argument is that people can cede their rights in exchange for the protection offered by a government. This claim was soundly rejected by Jefferson and the other founding fathers of America in pursuing the formation of a democratic republic and rejecting a monarchy. Jefferson explicitly enumerated "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as the rights of all Americans. The rights to property, to think freely and independently, and to raise questions about the reach of government into citizens' lives are also considered natural rights.

Thomas Paine's Common Sense was very influential in Thomas Jefferson's drafting the Declaration of Independence a few months later and getting Congress to approve the proposal of the Declaration.

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