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.
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.
Today, I want to discuss just part of Amendment 1:
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.
Despots often fear the assembling of groups of people for fear that they might try to overthrow the government. Even though England could be considered enlightened in absolute terms, the king was still a despot and the English monarchy often restricted the right of English citizens to assemble in public.
One example of this is that in 1670, Quaker William Penn, the later founder of Pennsylvania, was convicted in England for public preaching. Part of the case against him was that he was gathering unlawful assemblies in public. A jury later found him innocent, but this was an important moment in the thought process that many British citizens had about the right to assemble. During the protests preceding the Revolutionary War, the British army began to try to restrict colonists from assembling to protest the various Acts Parliament had passed to tax and control the colonial population. Advocates of American liberty began to see that the right to assemble was of key importance to those who wanted to correct wrongs done by their government. If they could not assemble, they could not achieve their goals.
Consequently, the delegates to the First Continental Congress added a statement about the right to assemble in the document they published called “Declaration and Resolves” on October 14, 1774, that said the people “have a right to peaceably assemble, consider of their grievances, and petition the king.” This document listed the grievances the American people had against King George III and Parliament, their objections to the various acts passed by Parliament, and stated the rights they believed they were entitled to.
King George declared those gatherings to be illegal and seditious. But the entire focus of American civil life revolved around peaceful assemblies and public discussions. Whether in the meeting houses of New England, the Burgesses of Virginia, or even just taverns and coffeehouses, Americans meet face to face to discuss politics and the news of the day. When drafting the Bill of Rights, Madison wanted to ensure that this essential right would not be restricted. He recognized that meetings to discuss important topics of the day, both at the local and national level, were critical to a republican form of government.
But Madison also included the word “peaceably” in this clause to emphasize that this right did not extend to violent protests and rioting. The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances meant that the people could take their complaints to elected officials and seek to have their issues resolved not overthrow the government over these issues.
Nothing is more patriotic to the American Cause than assembling peacefully and marching in protest. Abolitionist used this to eliminate slavery, women marched in the early 1900’s to secure the vote, we have marched to secure rights, protest war, and demand reform. The difference, of course, between protest and sedition is whether these protests are peaceful or turn to riots and invasions.
Wow, four articles in and we’ve only covered Amendment #1. One down, nine to go. How controversial can the next one be… 🤔
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