This will be a multi-part series discussing the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Section One will be an opening statement, then Sections 2 thru 11 will discuss the actual amendments, then Section 12 will be a closing statement. I feel this is necessary because from my experience far too many people are ignorant in regards to what the Bill of Rights says and why these rights were believed to be important enough to protect by constitutional amendment.
So, without further ado, let us begin…
“You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to
become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured;
for liberty ought to be the direct end of your Government… Liberty, the greatest of
all earthly blessings-give us that precious jewel, and you may take every thing else…”
(5 June 1788)
Throughout the writings on the men who established our republic there is one word that appears over and over; liberty. I hear people use the word in conversations and then say they support the actions of our government in its so-called War on Terror or in the laws it passes to keep us safe from gun violence. It’s all I can do to refrain from asking them if they honestly know what liberty means.
Liberty, according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, is defined as: the quality or state of being free: a: the power to do as one pleases b: freedom from physical restraint c: freedom from arbitrary or despotic control d: the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges e: the power of choice. Using that definition, how many of you can say that you enjoy full liberty today? If any of you raised your hand I urge you to go back and read that definition again; and this time pay attention to what it says.
Among the Founding Fathers who were the most outspoken against the oppressive laws enacted by England upon the colonies was Samuel Adams. In the year 1772, in what later came to be called the Liberty Letters, Adams penned the Natural Rights of the Colonists as Men, wherein he declared; “Among the Natural Rights of the Colonists are these First. a Right to Life; Secondly to Liberty; thirdly to Property; together with the Right to support and defend them in the best manner they can–Those are evident Branches of, rather than deductions from the Duty of Self Preservation, commonly called the first Law of Nature…”
According to Adams, and many others, liberty was not something granted us by a benevolent government, it was something we were entitled to under Natural Law; and it was our right, and our duty, to defend it in the best manner we can.
A year prior, writing under the pseudonym Candidus, Adams wrote, “The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks.” This duty was not something that expired after our Founders obtained their independence; it was passed on to all future generations and it binds us today; with no regard to what peril it brings to our persons. As Patrick Henry declared, “Give me liberty or give me death.” That was how strongly our Founders felt about the cause for which they fought.
How do you feel about liberty today? Would you risk life and limb to fight for it? Or are you content to take your chance that the people you cast your vote for are honest and virtuous men/women who will preserve it for you?
Another or our Founders, James Wilson, writes, “Government … should be formed to secure and enlarge the exercise of the natural rights of its members; and every government which has not this in view as its principal object is not a government of the legitimate kind.” Therefore government, any government, be it state or federal, which passes a law restricting even one of our natural rights is NOT a government of the legitimate kind and it is your DUTY to resist these violations of your rights. But how can you do so if you do not know, or understand why certain rights were protected by Constitutional Amendment?
In the fight to ratify our Constitution there were those who vehemently opposed its ratification for the sole reason that it contained no Bill of Rights; safeguarding certain rights from intrusion by the government created by that document. Both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the primary authors of the Federalist Papers opposed the idea of including a Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Hamilton, in Federalist 84, states his opposition thusly, “I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colourable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”
Yet the opposition to the Constitution was such that in return for voting in favor of ratifying the Constitution a Bill of Rights would be added after the Constitution went into effect. When James Madison stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and delivered his speech proposing that a Bill of Rights be established, he was far from enthusiastic about it, “I will state my reasons why I think it proper to propose amendments, and state the amendments themselves, so far as I think they ought to be proposed. If I thought I could fulfil the duty which I owe to myself and my constituents, to let the subject pass over in silence, I most certainly should not trespass upon the indulgence of this House. But I cannot do this, and am therefore compelled to beg a patient hearing to what I have to lay before you. And I do most sincerely believe, that if Congress will devote but one day to this subject, so far as to satisfy the public that we do not disregard their wishes, it will have a salutary influence on the public councils, and prepare the way for a favorable reception of our future measures.”
Nonetheless twelve amendments were submitted to the States for consideration and after the votes had been counted, ten of them were found to have sufficient votes to become part and parcel of our Constitution, and therefore the Supreme Law of the land.
Therefore, if it is your duty as Americans to defend these rights against all attacks, don’t you think it would be prudent to know what they are and why these particular rights were selected when others weren’t? Knowing what your rights are isn’t enough; you must also know why these rights were so important that they be protected by Constitutional Amendment. So, seeing as how I’ve wasted two pages just getting to the entire point of this article, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
That said, there is one thing I have to get off my chest before I begin discussing the Bill of Rights; the ten amendments which comprise the Bill of Rights are more than just catch-phrases to be tossed about without any true understanding of what they mean. There is an old saying that applies well to these amendments protecting certain rights; they say what they mean and they mean what they say. To understand the Bill of Rights you must take them in their entirety, understand the words used, the phrasing, and then realize that the entire amendment is a binding law upon all. Otherwise you are wasting your time even attempting to study them.