The 20th century ended amid well-founded optimism that Latin America had taken firm steps toward democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Only the island of Cuba seemed stuck in the era of military dictatorship and authoritarianism. But in the last 15 years, things have changed. Political violence has reappeared in many Latin countries and criminality is on the rise, with concomitant erosion of respect for individual rights.
John Adams reconciliation of natural right with popular consent is the task of constitutional politics.
Timothy Sandefur seems to let his dislike for John Adams get in the way of his analysis. Sandefur thinks that the issue is “the transition from the common law principle of ‘toleration’ to the natural-rights principle of religious liberty.” More generally, he suggests the issue is the transition from the idea that law creates rights to the idea that men, by nature, have rights. That is not the issue here. Adams had robust ideas of individual rights, including the rights of conscience, from the time he was a young man, as Brad Thompson has demonstrated in his John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty. That’s why, as Sandefur notes, in one of the letters to which he links, Adams said that the effort to secure the rights of conscience in Virginia were “worth all the blood and treasure which has been or will be spent in this war.” It is also why he refused to endorse Massachusetts’s religious establishment. Many historians have mistakenly attributed the establishment, in Article III, of the Massachusetts’s Constitution’s Declaration of Rights, to Adams. Sandefur accepts the correction in the narrow sense, but does not consider what that means for our understanding of Adams.