Today, schoolchildren across America are reciting the stirring words of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  Nearly everyone knows Martin Luther King, Jr. as the great leader of the civil rights movement in America who espoused a philosophy of non-violent opposition to racial discrimination and segregation; fewer recognize King’s contribution to the natural law tradition of American constitutionalism.

As we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., the Witherspoon Institute is proud to announce a public preview of a new online academic resource dedicated to natural law and the American tradition.  Today is an apt occasion to learn more deeply about that great tradition, to which, King said, we are the heirs through the “magnificent words” of the “architects of our republic.”

The aim of the Witherspoon Institute’s project is to create a nonpartisan, educational website on “Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism,” which will serve as an online resource center for students, teachers, and educated citizens to learn about the intellectual traditions of natural law and natural rights, particularly within American political and constitutional history.

The project is made possible through the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities through its “We the People” initiative and with direction from scholars associated with the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. The goal of the NEH “We the People” initiative is to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture through the support of projects that explore significant events and themes in our nation’s history and culture, which advance knowledge of the principles that define America.

Start your day with Public Discourse

Sign up and get our daily essays sent straight to your inbox.

The resources of Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism are arranged into five categories:

  1. Classical and Medieval Sources of Natural Law
  2. Early Modern Liberal Roots of Natural Law
  3. American Founding and Constitutionalism
  4. Contemporary Theories of Natural Law
  5. Critics of the Natural Law Tradition

We have been honored to have the participation of many distinguished scholars in order to bring the project to fruition.  The following is a list of the scholars who have collaborated in the project, and the essays that they have contributed (for a complete list of our contributors, please click here):

  1. Platonic Philosophy and Natural Law
    V. Bradley Lewis, Catholic University of America
  2. Aristotle, Natural Law, and the Founders
    Michael Pakaluk, Ave Maria University
  3. Cicero and the Natural Law
    Walter Nicgorski, University of Notre Dame
  4. Aquinas’s Theory of Natural Law
    Thomas D. D’Andrea, University of Cambridge
  5. Ockham to Hooker: Late Medieval Transformations of Natural Law
    Paul E. Sigmund, Princeton University
  6. Hobbes: Natural Law to Natural Rights
    Robert Kraynak, Colgate University
  7. Locke and the Natural Rights Tradition
    Steven Forde, University of North Texas
  8. Natural Law and the Law of Nations
    Samuel Gregg, Acton Institute
  9. Montesquieu: Natural Law and Natural Right
    Paul A. Rahe, Hillsdale College
  10. Common Law and the Law of Reason
    James R. Stoner, Louisiana State University
  11. English Radical Whigs and Natural Law
    Michael Zuckert, University of Notre Dame
  12. Colonial Roots of American Constitutionalism
    Lee Ward, University of Regina
  13. The Declaration of Independence
    James R. Stoner, Louisiana State University
  14. Constitution-Making in the Founding Era
    John Dinan, Wake Forest University
  15. The Bill of Rights and Natural Rights
    Thomas Pangle, University of Texas at Austin
  16. The Influence of the Scottish Enlightenment
    Daniel N. Robinson, University of Oxford
  17. Lincoln and the Natural Law Tradition
    Herman Belz, University of Maryland emeritus
  18. The Post-Civil War Amendments
    Michael Zuckert, University of Notre Dame
  19. Natural Law and the Supreme Court
    Paul Moreno, Hillsdale College
  20. American Civil Rights Movements
    William B. Allen, Michigan State University emeritus
  21. New Natural Law Theory
    Christopher O. Tollefsen, University of South Carolina
  22. Modern Constitutionalism
    Walter Berns, Georgetown University emeritus
  23. Machiavelli, Guicciardini, and Raison d’Etat
    Maurizio Viroli, Princeton University
  24. Enlightenment Critics of Natural Law
    Darren Staloff, CCNY, and Alan M. Levine, American University
  25. Social Darwinism and Natural Law
    Bradley C. S. Watson, St. Vincent College
  26. American Progressivism
    Ronald J. Pestritto, Hillsdale College
  27. Oliver Wendell Holmes
    Bradley C. S. Watson, St. Vincent College
  28. Natural Law and Legal Positivism
    James B. Murphy, Dartmouth College

In this public preview, you will find the website in its first phase. We continue to receive and edit new essays and educational materials, acquire facsimiles of primary sources, and improve technical aspects of the website.

No resource of this kind currently exists; considering the importance of the natural law tradition to American constitutionalism, therefore, we are certain that this endeavor will prove a worthwhile investment of time and effort.

We hope that you will visit Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism 1.0 and we welcome your comments and suggestions regarding the site.  Please contact our editorial staff at with comments or queries.