Insurrections often are propagated upon misinformation. So too are the most recent band of domestic terrorist who like to hide behind our most sacred American institutions. In this series, I want to explore the Bill of Rights and why some of the hype and hyperbole thrown around by the extremist is not just wrong but dangerously misguided.
Let’s start with the fact that the original Constitution, drafted in the summer of 1787, did NOT contain the Bill of Rights. These amendments or corrections to the US Constitution were drafted to remedy some of the deep flaws in the original constitution. Over the next 103[i] years, the US Constitution will be amended 27 times and there are still discussions of several additional changes.
In May of 1787, fifty-seven delegates from the 13 original states convened in Philadelphia, not to write a new constitution but rather to fix the flaws in the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles of Confederation, each of the states was effectively independent and the federal government acted in an advisory capacity similar to today’s United Nations. This left the country unable to deal with several pressing issues like interstate trade, taxation, ousting the British from the Northwest Territories, and such. The convention delegates convened to address only these specific issues but soon found that the original national charter, while adequate during the Revolutionary War, was too flawed for a simple repair and a new charter, the US Constitution, was drafted.
By September 1787, after numerous debates, compromises, and agreements, a final draft of this new governmental charter was ready to send to the states for approval. Make no mistake, the original delegates KNEW this was not a perfect constitution. Most expected it to last fifty years or so before it too was replaced. Among the biggest known flaws in 1787 was the fact that, unlike several state constitutions, the US Constitution made no mention of the rights of individuals.
The absence of a “bill of rights” turned out to be an obstacle to the Constitution’s ratification by the states. It would take four years of intense debate before the new government’s form would be resolved. The Federalists opposed including a bill of rights on the ground that it was unnecessary. The Anti-Federalists, who were afraid of a strong centralized government, refused to support the Constitution without one. In the end, popular sentiment was decisive. Recently freed from the despotic English monarchy, the American people wanted strong guarantees that the new government would not trample upon their newly won freedoms. Creating an American Bill of Rights was one of the chief promises made by Washington as he was inaugurated as President. The following year James Madison, the chief architect of the original Constitution, will present Congress with 20 potential amendments to the Constitution. Congress will debate these and, in the end, consolidate this list down to twelve of which ten will be adopted[ii]was adopted, and in 1791 the Constitution’s first ten amendments became the law of the land.
Over the next several weeks, I will discuss the history of our constitutionally protected rights and why Congress chose to codify these and not others. I am not an attorney so I will not go into some of the legal aspects of these amendments, so please don’t ask me if your religious obsession for cordite is protected by Amendment 1 or Amendment 2. I plan to focus on why these amendments exist.
[i] The 27th Amendment was ratified in 1992.
[ii] Resolutions to limit Congresses ability to raise their own salaries will be later adopted in 1992, and there is an ongoing debate, perhaps refueled by current events to strengthen the separation of powers.