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John Milton, Bill of Rights, Calvinism, Liberties, Rights, Moral law, English Revolution


In this Article, I focus on the development of rights talk in the pre-Enlightenment Protestant tradition. More particularly, I show how early modem Calvinists-those Protestants inspired by the teachings of Genevan reformer John Calvin (1509-1564)-developed a theory of fundamental rights as part and product of a broader constitutional theory of resistance and military revolt against tyranny. With unlimited space, I would document how various Calvinist groups from 1550 to 1700 helped to define and defend each and every one of the rights that would later appear in the American Bill of Rights and how these Calvinists condoned armed revolution to vindicate these fundamental rights when they were chronically and pervasively breached by a tyrant.

As an illustration of this broader story, this Article focuses on the reformation of rights and liberties led by the great English poet and philosopher, John Milton (1604-1674). Writing in the throes of the English Revolution (1640-1660), Milton formulated a revolutionary account of law, religion, and human rights, grounded in a Calvinist theory of human nature and human society. Following Calvinist conventions, Milton believed that each person is created in the image of God with a perennial craving to love God, neighbor, and self.

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Emory Law Journal