The political regime of the United States of America is one founded on three core philosophical ideas: natural rights, consent of the governed, and the rule of law. The American Founders put in place a structure – a federal constitutional government of divided powers consisting of states with their own republican governments – in order to ensure that these core philosophical ideas stood the best chance of surviving the tumult of human depravity. Thus, the Founders’ government was a limited government, but it was not a libertine one. It offered what some call a regime of ordered liberty. That is, one in which the preservation and development of certain institutions and ways of life – already present in civil society – could be allowed to flourish for the sake of the common good.
The Declaration of Independence provides a philosophical snapshot of the grounds by which the infrastructure of this government was fashioned: “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 is, human beings are rights bearers by nature, and these rights are given to them by God. And because the human being, in the words of Justice McLean, “bears the impress of his Maker,” we are in fact creatures of equal dignity and immeasurable worth (even when our government does not live up to this truth).
(picture of U. S. Supreme Court Justice John McLean, who served on the Court from 1830 until 1861)