Friday, December 12, 2008

The Bill

Tomorrow will be the 219th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights which is the first set of amendments to the United States Constitution. 219 years is a pretty good run considering that it was incredibly controversial at the time it was written. One major argument against the Bill was made by Alexander Hamilton who believed that listing certain rights in the constitution might imply that others that aren’t listed are not granted by law. It’s a valid point considering the huge legal battles that are fought daily in the courts regarding the few rights that are listed in the bill. This argument was the primary reason for the inclusion of the ninth amendment. The controversial nature of the Bill seems outdated, but I think it’s important to realize that not all states ratified it. Three of the original thirteen states - Connecticut, Georgia, and Massachusetts - didn’t ratify the Bill until 1939 citing Hamilton’s argument above. However, the majority of the first American government somehow knew that in the absence of such a bill future officials would claim the power to remove the rights that were not listed as law. The amount of foresight and wisdom of these men was absolutely amazing considering how government officials have attempted to erode those rights that are listed with fear-based legislation (Hatch Act, Smith Act, McCarran Act, and my favorite the Patriot Act). The intent of the Bill wasn’t just to enumerate some of the rights that were considered to be common law. The intent of the Bill was to protect the people from our own federal government. The Bill of Rights does not give anyone rights. We’ve always had those rights as American citizens (I would argue that any free person has these rights). It only protects the exercise of our rights.

The following is a transcript of the original version of the Bill of Rights as submitted to the people for ratification. Notice that the first two articles were not accepted by the states and were not ratified. The second article was in fact ratified two hundred years after it was proposed…that sounds like the government I know.

Begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday, the Fourth of March, One Thousand Seven Hundred Eighty-nine.

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 insure the beneficent Ends of its Institution, RESOLVED, by the Senate, and House of Representatives, of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, Two Thirds of both Houses concurring, That the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States as Amendments to the Constitution of the United States: All, or any of, which Articles, when ratified by Three-Fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all Intents and Purposes as Part of the said Constitution, viz.

ARTICLES in Addition to, and Amendment of, the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the Fifth Article of the original Constitution.

Article the first [Not Ratified]
After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.

Article the second [27th Amendment - Ratified 1992]
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

Article the third [1st Amendment]
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.

Article the fourth [2nd Amendment]
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.

Article the fifth [3rd Amendment]
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.

Article the sixth [4th Amendment]
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.

Article the seventh [5th Amendment]
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.

Article the eighth [6th Amendment]
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 defense.

Article the ninth [7th Amendment]
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 re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Article the tenth [8th Amendment]
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Article the eleventh [9th Amendment]
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Article the twelfth [10th Amendment]
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.

Speaker of the House of Representatives
Vice-President of the United States, and President of the Senate
Attest, John Beckley,
Clerk of the House of Representatives
Sam. A. Otis,
Secretary of the Senate

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