What is law, and what is government? In our country, the government is a Democracy, or a government by the people. In order for a nation like ours and many others around the globe to define their laws, they first turn to their common morals. These morals become the basis of all forthcoming laws, and society cannot stand without a base of common morals.
To explore the impact of morals on past governments, let’s delve into the oldest known set of laws. Hammurabi’s code, written in 1772 BC is the oldest known written law. Among the 282 laws are specific punishments for crimes of thievery, bodily harm, and adultery; also contained are guidelines for marriage and families. For example, a son disrespecting his father had “his front hair shorn, a slave-mark put on him, and could be sold as a slave” (Johns). Punishments to enforce similar laws change over time, but the basic values continue.
For example, The Ten Commandments, originating around 1500 BC, also addressed similar issues of thievery, murder, adultery, and family guidelines (Holy Bible). But where did these ideas of right and wrong come from? Perhaps they came from the ideas of self-righteous leaders or religious texts, but the fact that these and other morally based laws have survived through the ages to influence current society is a witness to their effectiveness regardless of their source.
The similar, but more modernly recognized rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (US 1776) were declared as unalienable in the Declaration of Independence, and those same rights played a large part in the writing of the Bill of Rights. John Locke was perhaps the inspiration for these three rights when he expressed his idea that all people were free and equal. He wrote that man was born with the right to “preserve himself, his liberty and property” (Locke).
These codes, laws, and rights expressed throughout the ages may not be identical, but they are all based on the same basic idea that we have the freedom to do what it takes to be happy and preserve what is ours. We have the right to life. The idea of the equality of all people has become mostly accepted around the world, and it is in the best interest of the world to hold every life as equally valuable. We have the right to liberty. We are free to make choices according to our will and conscience so long as those choices don’t infringe upon others’ rights. We have the right to the pursuit of happiness. We are free to pursue our desires, as long as our pursuit doesn’t destroy others’. While these three rights seem simple at a first glance, their complexity increases constantly in today’s world with many conflicting ideas of where happiness is found.
It is not necessary for government to be founded in religion, but it is necessary for the people to be able to agree on a common moral code. John Adams stated that it is “religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely...