John Locke argued in his Two Treatises of Government (1689) that political society existed for the sake of protecting "property", which he defined as a person's "life, liberty, and estate". The same year in a A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke suggested that magistrate possess powers limited to preserving an individual's "civil interest", which Locke described as "life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things". In the Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke postulates that "the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness".
Thomas Jefferson and the Continental Congress wrote in the The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
According to this the primary, and perhaps exclusive, purpose of any government is the protection of individual rights. The Declaration of Independence declared that government existed primarily for the reasons Locke gave, and some scholars have extended that line of thinking to support a conception of limited government. The basic rights listed are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (property). Protecting these individual rights is so important that when "Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." Jefferson and the Continental Congress were using the destruction of those fundamental individual rights as a justification for declaring independence from England. In the eyes of the King of England, this declaration of independence was treason. Jefferson and the Continental Congress effectively claimed that the defense of individual rights is a justification for an act of treason.
Since 1796 Tennessee's Constitution has contained a Declaration of Rights. The Declaration of Rights echos the The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America on the vast importance of individual rights:
Section 1. That all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; for the advancement of those ends they have at all times, an unalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.
Section 2. That government being instituted for the common benefit, the doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.
Individuals have rights. A group of individuals only enjoys the rights that every member of that group enjoys. A group cannot simple declare that they have rights as a group that the individuals in the group do not possess on their own. Even if a group holds a vote, they cannot vote themselves rights that they as individuals do not possess. Even if the group decides to draw up a formal document, charter, or pass a law they cannot assume rights they do not have as individuals. The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America clearly states what must occur when a government seeks to destroy individual rights: "... it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government...."
Governments are formed by individuals or representatives of individuals. When chartering a government, individuals grant to government certain powers. Usually the founding document such as a Constitution or Charter specifically lists the powers granted by the individuals to the government they are creating. For example, individuals may grant government the power to administer justice. When individuals grant to government the power to administer justice, then they give up the right to seek justice on their own.
Governments and Individual Rights:
It is important to notice that governments are "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...." Any time the power of government increases, by necessity it means that individual rights will decrease. In rare cases where the power of government decreases, individual rights flourish. Thus, individual rights become the core of every issue and every issue comes down to preserving or destroying individual rights. Individual rights are the most important issue for any one serving in government. Every time Metro Council wants to increase its power and regulate something they have not regulated before individual rights are destroyed. Let us suppose that a member of the Metro Council introduces a bill to require a permit to breathe air in Nashville. Obviously, this decreases the right to life. Consider any other issue where Metro Government requires a license or permit and at the root lies the destruction of an individual right.
Libertarians want to preserve and restore individual rights they can only do that by supporting a decease in the size, cost, reach, and power of the government. Barry Goldwater wrote in The Conscience of a Conservative (1960):
I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is "needed" before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents' "interests," I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.
Promoting individual rights is promoting the general welfare. Promoting individual right is promoting peace. Promoting individual rights is promoting safety. Promoting individual right is promoting prosperity. Promoting individual rights is the only responsible thing an elected official can do. I pledge to always stand on the side of defending individual rights. Libertarians oppose increasing the size, cost reach and power on government on the issue of infringing upon individual rights. Libertarians will support defending everyone’s rights on every issue.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America states that among the fundamental rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (property). Life exists in time (past, present, and future). One of the ways the past becomes manifest is in the fruits of our labor. In a free society we use the fruits of our labor to preserve life and justly acquire property. To uses force and coercion to deprive others of their property is theft. In the present we enjoy the blessings of liberty and freedom. To deprive someone of their liberty and freedom is to subject them to slavery. To deprive someone of the future of their life is murder. Libertarians oppose all forms of theft, slavery, and murder.
Read The Law by Claude Frédéric Bastiat