This article is the first in a series on the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution. My purpose in posting this exposé is to do my part in calling Americans back to their spawning grounds of liberty. Based on recent trends, I fear that if we don’t frequent our founding principles then Ronald Reagan’s warning could be realized, that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” To read my entire series on the American Bill of Rights, see http://finance.townhall.com/columnists/markbaisley/
The primary motivation for constructing a Bill of Rights was citizen apprehension over the formation of a centralized federal government. The United States existed as a sovereign nation beginning with the signing of the Declaration of Independence from England. Each of the 13 original states owned a distinct culture and set of values, sharing the common priority captured succinctly in Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense: “But where says some is the King of America? I'll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain... that in America THE LAW IS KING.”
A full eleven years passed before the colonies ratified the United States Constitution. This formalizing of the union was a hard sell, as every state valued their freshly earned sovereignty. Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote 85 essays, now known as the Federalist Papers, to promote the idea of uniting the union under a common constitution.
The greatest fear of committing to a constitution was what mathematicians may refer to as an Axiom of Abstraction; that codifying a set of rights could be interpreted as the complete set of rights. So while the Constitution grants the federal government its powers, many felt it necessary to augment this framework with a minimal set of rights preserved for the citizens.
From his post as the American Minister to France, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I am glad to learn that the new Constitution will undoubtedly be received by a sufficiency of the States to set it a going. Were I in America, I would advocate it warmly until nine should have adopted it, and then as warmly take the other side to convince the remaining four that they ought not to come into it until the declaration of rights is annexed to it. By this means we should secure all the good of it and procure as respectable an opposition as would induce the accepting States to offer a bill of rights.”
Twelve amendments to the constitution made it through Congress and were proposed to the states all at once in 1789, just two years after ratification of the original Constitution. The two amendments that did not receive sufficient acceptance from the states addressed the number of constituents for each representative and compensation for Congressmen. The colonies were far more interested in establishing for themselves those guaranties of individual freedoms. The first ten amendments to the Constitution were ratified as The Bill of Rights, having been proposed to the states as follows:
Congress of the United States? begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.
ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Next week: The First Amendment.