Sunday, December 13, 2009
December 15 is Bill of Rights Day
By Alan Caruba
December 15 is Bill of Rights day, a national holiday that was signed into law by Franklin Delano Roosevelt on that day in 1941. For those who know their history, that was just a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War Two.
By way of a little more history, the Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787. It was a closed-door gathering of delegates from all the States except Rhode Island that failed to send one. The objective was to come up with something better than the Articles of Confederacy that had proved ineffective. By September 17, 1787, all twelve state delegations approved the new Constitution. Of the 42 delegates present, 39 signed the document.
On June 21, 1788 the Constitution became effective when New Hampshire became the ninth State to ratify it. It had been subject to extensive deliberation throughout the original thirteen States and the Federalist Papers are testimony to the effort to explain the need for it and its various elements of governance.
Even then, however, there was widespread concern that it did not specifically enumerate the limitations needed to protect specific rights of individual citizens and to ensure that the new government would not be permitted to run roughshod over its citizens.
Introduced by James Madison, by September 25, 1789 Congress approved twelve amendments and sent them to the States for approval. However, only ten would gain approval and, on December 15, 1791, Virginia ratified the Bill of Rights and they became part of the Constitution.
The reason for the Bill of Rights is fairly straightforward. The citizens of the United States had come from nations where such rights were virtually non-existent although Britain had set their enumeration in motion with the Magna Carta in 1215 that put limitations of its monarchy.
The Bill of Rights was about limiting the power of the federal government and the Constitution is a brilliant document that makes the passing of laws a deliberately slow process to ensure they are subject to public notice and discussion.
This is in sharp contrast to what is occurring in Congress today as the Obama administration strives to push through laws that require more than 2,000 pages to extend government control over the nation’s healthcare system or impose a high tax on the use of energy by everyone. The summer’s many town hall meetings were testimony to the fact that some 80% of America’s citizens oppose Obamacare and the tens of thousands who showed up in Washington, D.C. on September 12 should have been sufficient to kill the bill.
The Bill of Rights set forth some extraordinary and revolutionary limits on the federal government.
Amendment 1 established freedom of speech, press, and religion.
Amendment 2 said that citizens have the right to bear arms. It is no accident that it follows Amendment 1 because, without the right to defend themselves against an out-of-control, tyrannical government these freedoms cannot exist.
Amendment 3 protected homeowners from having to quarter troops, except during war.
Amendment 4 enumerated rights and protections against government’s unreasonable search and seizure of citizen’s documents and communications.
Amendment 5 enumerated the right of due process of law and protected against double jeopardy, self incrimination, and the taking of private property except in limited circumstances and subject to fair compensation.
Amendment 6 guaranteed the right to a speedy trial by a jury of one’s peers and the rights of the accused.
Amendment 7 spelled out the right to trial by jury in civil cases.
Amendment 8 protected citizens from cruel and unusual punishment and against excessive bail.
Amendment 9 protected rights specified in the Bill of Rights and others. “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
Amendment 10 spelled out States rights and their powers.
Constitutional scholars are in general agreement that Amendments 1 and 10 are by far the most important. Amendment 10 says, “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.”
Since the end of World War Two, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights has been conspicuously ignored in many ways. For example, the word “education” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution, but the federal government now has a Department of Education. Education should be determined by the States and the people, not the federal government.
Similarly, there is little or no justification for the Department of Energy another topic not mentioned in the Constitution. It is a bureaucratic mess that, at this point, has done nothing to encourage the exploration and extraction of vital resources such as coal, natural gas, and oil. Congress has seen fit to restrict this and one would be hard pressed to find any justification.
The creation of the Environmental Protection Agency has led to a rogue agency that recently announced its intention to regulate carbon dioxide without any scientific justification; it is a natural gas on which all vegetation on Earth is dependent.
The United States of America is literally suffering from too much federal government, too much intrusion into the private lives and personal choices of its citizens, and too much taxation that takes money that would otherwise be invested to grow the economy and improve the lives of people who work for a living.
Most Americans are unaware of Bill of Rights Day and they need to be. In addition to the limitations set forth in the Constitution, they are all that stand between them and tyranny.