15 December 2011

Celebrating The Bill of Rights Day

On this date in 1791, the Commonwealth of Virginia was the 12th State to ratify the ten amendments that were then incorporated into our Constitution.

 During the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia , the framers were more concerned about how power would be distributed by the national government.  Some of the delegates were concerned that the Constitution did not spell out how the people would be protected from the government’s abuse of power.  So James Madison, the “father” of the Constitution and the author of the Federalist Papers, championed the inclusion of a Bill of Rights, that was modeled after an English Bill of Rights as well as similar Bill authored by Virginia George Mason.

The original resolution presented to Congress included twelve amendments which were not as sharply focused on individual rights.  One provision involved the number of delegates per the population.  The other seemingly stillborn amendment involved Congressional compensation:

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.
Although this amendment was not ratified as part of the Bill of Rights, this provision was ratified by 3/4ths of the states by Michigan in May, 1992.  Later it was discovered that the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s General Assembly had ratified it in its first month of statehood in 1792 but it had not been applied for 200 years.

As for the Bill of Rights:

The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.”

The Second Amendment says the people have the right “to keep and bear arms.”

The Third Amendment says soldiers may not be quartered in our homes without the consent of the owners.

The Fourth Amendment says the people have the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures..

The Fifth Amendment says that private property shall not be taken “for public use without just compensation.”

The Sixth Amendment says that in criminal prosecutions, the person accused is guaranteed a right to trial by jury.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial in civil cases where the controversy “shall exceed twenty dollars.”

The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments.

The Ninth Amendment says that the enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights should not be construed to deny or disparage others “retained by the people.”

The Tenth Amendment says that the powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states, or to the people.

These are not arcane relics of history.  Every day, Americans practice their freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.  Americans depend on access and the fairness of the judicial system. Our property rights can be challenged by eminent domain abuse.  And ultimately, citizens need to protect their right to bear arms–it’s not about hunting but the ultimate safeguard against the abuse of a tyrannical government.

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