"Kings or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness, as you confess those invaded by the Stamp Act to be," John Dickinson wrote in 1766.
"We claim them from a higher source — from the King of Kings, and Lord of all the Earth," he said in a public letter he signed simply "A North American."
"They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals," Dickinson said. "They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power, without taking our lives. In short, they are founded on the immutable maxims of reason and justice."
Dickinson led the intellectual fight against a British Parliament that was seeking to usurp the authority of colonial assemblies and directly impose taxes on the people of the American colonies — who would have no say in the matter.
Two hundred and fifty years later, President Barack Obama stood in the White House and professed a desire to protect the rights of Americans.
In a speech this week explaining his plan to take unilateral action on gun control, Obama cited "our right to worship freely and safely" and "our inalienable right to life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" — accurately noting that these rights had been violated by murderers using guns.