“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.”
The Preamble To The Bill Of Rights
As a follow-up to our Fourth of July message last month regarding the Declaration of Independence, this would be a good time to take a closer look at another of the documents that shaped our nation’s history. When people complain their “Constitutional rights” are being trampled on, what do they really mean? The Constitution itself doesn’t talk a whole lot about individual rights. It lays down the specifics of how the new country would be governed – how representatives would be elected, laws passed, and disputes settled. It establishes the system of checks and balances between the three branches of government. But when Americans say “Constitutional Rights,” they usually mean the rights spelled out in the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, which have been entitled the Bill of Rights. Without the Bill of Rights, the United States could have turned out to be a very different place, if it even survived at all.
The American colonists were familiar with the concept of individual rights, which had been recognized in British law for many years. But their experience in living under British rule showed them that a central government could easily disregard these rights if it had the power to enforce its will through military might or economic control. After the colonies had won their independence, they decided that protecting individual rights would be one of the most important tasks of the new government. Some historians think the only reason the delegates to the Constitutional Convention didn’t include a bill of rights in the original document was because they didn’t expect the new national government to have much effect on individual citizens’ lives. Most of their day-to-day interactions with government would be done through the states, and most of the states already had bills of rights in their constitutions. Some people, however, were concerned that if the government did become more powerful, it might someday move to restrict individual liberty.
The Constitution was submitted to the 13 states for ratification in 1787 and discussed by state conventions in 1787 and 1788. Because so many people wanted to make sure their individual rights would be protected, several states refused to sign the document unless they received a promise that a bill of rights would be proposed as soon as the first Congress convened under the new Constitution. Twelve amendments were submitted to the first Congress in 1789 and by December 15, 1791, 10 of them had been ratified by the states and became law.
These 10 statements separate the United States from so many other countries in the world. We are truly blessed to live in a place where we are guaranteed these freedoms. I invite you to take a few minutes to read them over and think of all the places where people are not free to state their opinions, practice their religion, hold a political assembly or live without fear of the secret police breaking down their door. It’s also important to remember that it’s our responsibility as citizens to make sure these rights are protected and preserved for future generations.
The Bill of Rights
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 reexamined 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.