Here is a quote from a cleric around the time the nation was founded:
“As reason tells us, all are born thus naturally equal, i.e., with an equal right to their persons, so also with an equal right to their preservation . . . and every man having a property in his own person, the labour of his body and the work of his hands are properly his own, to which no one has right but himself; it will therefore follow that when he removes anything out of the state that nature has provided and left it in, he has mixed his labour with it, and joined something to it that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. . . . Thus every man having a natural right to (or being proprietor of) his own person and his own actions and labour, which we call property, it certainly follows, that no man can have a right to the person or property of another: And if every man has a right to his person and property; he has also a right to defend them . . . and so has a right of punishing all insults upon his person and property.”
Rev. Elisha Williams
It would seem the good Reverend was a man who would have understood the non-aggression axiom. In fact, the Reverend sounds almost Rothbardian. Compare the quote with the following words of Rothbard from his book The Ethics of Liberty.
The key to the theory of liberty is the establishment of the rights of private property, for each individual’s justified sphere of free action can only be set forth if his rights of property are analyzed and established. “Crime” can then be defined and properly analyzed as a violent invasion or aggression against the just property of another individual (including his property in his own person). The positive theory of liberty then becomes an analysis of what can be considered property rights, and therefore what can be considered crimes. Various difficult but vitally important problems can then be dissected, including the rights of children, the proper theory of contracts as transfers of property titles, the thorny questions of enforcement and punishment, and many others. Since questions of property and crime are essentially legal questions, our theory of liberty necessarily sets forth an ethical theory of what law concretely should be. In short, as a natural-law theory should properly do, it sets forth a normative theory of law—in our case, a theory of “libertarian law.” While the book establishes the general outlines of a system of libertarian law, however, it is only an outline, a prolegomenon to what I hope will be a fully developed libertarian law code of the future. Hopefully, libertarian jurists and legal theorists will arise to hammer out the system of libertarian law in detail, for such a law code will be necessary to the truly successful functioning of what we may hope will be the libertarian society of the future.
The idea of our “natural rights” being the right to not be a victim of aggression is as old as mankind. The notion has been revived over and over. When will we all come to believe in non-aggression?