After the Constitution was drafted, a group known as the Anti-Federalists feared a too-strong federal government, felt the new Constitution did not go far enough to protect individual rights, and held up ratification. Those favoring the Constitution, the Federalists, promised that upon ratification, the newly formed Congress would take up specific amendments guaranteeing those rights. In 1789 when the First Congress convened, James Madison, with inspiration from Thomas Jefferson, drafted ten amendments and, as promised, steered them through Congress. The requisite majority of states ratified them by December, 1791 and the Bill of Rights became part of the Constitution.
Look at the direction of the action verbs and constraints in this signal document:
I: Shall make no law … prohibiting … abridging…
II: Shall not be infringed …
III: No soldier shall … be quartered…
IV: Shall not be violated… no warrants shall issue …
V: No person shall be held … nor shall any person be subject … nor
shall be compelled … nor be deprived of … nor shall private
property be taken …
VI: Accused shall enjoy …
VII: Right of trial by jury shall be preserved …
VIII: Shall not be required … imposed … inflicted
IX: Shall not be construed to deny or disparage …
X: Powers not delegated … are reserved to the states … or to the
So why are all of these action verbs targeted on government? Because our Founding Fathers understood human nature and knew the time would come when power-seeking men would abuse the powers of government to their own advantage. They would attempt to silence dissent and marginalize freedoms, which is precisely what is happening today and why so many governmental actions are blatantly in violation of the concepts throughout this great document.
All of which leads to what I consider the nine most important principles in the Bill of Rights.
- The Bill of Rights does not tell the people what they can and cannot do; it tells the government what it shall and shall not do. We could easily rename it the Bill of Government Restrictions.
- Freedom of religion is the first freedom mentioned because it is the keystone freedom upon which all others depend. (I)
- Religious freedom is more comprehensive than freedom of worship. (I)
- Freedom of speech is the second freedom mentioned followed by press, assembly, and the right to petition government. They are mentioned together because they are interdependent and mutually supportive. (I)
- The right to keep and bear arms is a preservation of the right of individuals, not of an army, which right the army already holds. It is a check against tyranny. (II)
- Our homes and personal effects are off limits to search and seizure without a specific probable-cause search warrant properly issued. (IV)
- Anyone accused of a crime shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. (VI)
- The rights of the people are not restricted to only those mentioned in the Constitution. (IX)
- All powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states or the people. (X)
In these principles, especially numbers 2, 3, 4, and 9 (the First and Tenth Amendments), will be found the formulas for deflecting the increasing attacks on the Constitution. Remember them. They will come in handy.
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Next week: 16 useful quotes from the Federalist Papers.
Gary Lawrence is a public opinion pollster and author. His latest book “The War in Heaven Continues” is available at Deseret Book, Ensign Books, and at GaryCLawrence.com. He welcomes reader comments at [email protected].