William Blackstone, that legendary commentator on the laws of England, remarked that the law could not contain a principle of revolution. Laws settle the order of things; revolutions unsettle them. But James Wilson, one of the leading minds among the American Founders, insisted that “a revolution principle certainly is, and certainly should be taught as a principle for the constitution.”
For the law in America would begin with the recognition that there could indeed be an unjust law. But that made sense only if one understood that there was a body of principles by which one could judge the rightness or wrongness, the justice or injustice, of those measure that were enacted into law.
The philosopher John Locke unfolded the logic of the matter in a series of questions. What was the source, he asked, of the positive law, the law that was “posited” or enacted. Answer: the legislature. What was the source of the legislature? Answer: the constitution, for it tells of whether we have a legislature and of how many chambers.
But then what was the source of the constitution? It had to be found, said, Locke in some source “antecedent to all positive laws” and that authority was “depending wholly on the people,” on their natural right to be governed with their own consent.