November 16, 2018
The Bill of Rights – A Vision of Individual Liberty
“A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth.”
Every American should know that the Bill of Rights contains the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution. But many may not remember the tumultuous circumstances under which they were created or why they still matter today.
Did You Know …
The Bill of Rights was a result of opposition to the Constitution?
Fearing vast federal power without protection of individual rights, many Constitutional Convention delegates hesitated to support the document. Proposals to include several rights guarantees were rejected (including those on liberty of the press and a ban on quartering soldiers in private homes that were later included). The framers believed that the Constitution protected liberty primarily through its division of powers that prevented oppressive majorities and the abuse of power. But guarantees to protect individual rights had to be made to ratify the Constitution.
The biggest opponent to the Bill of Rights became its principal architect?
James Madison is credited with writing the amendments, but he was initially skeptical of their value. He believed unlimited Congressional veto over state laws and a joint executive-judicial council that could veto federal laws would have a similar effect. He soon realized that a declaration of rights was both educational and a way for future Americans to rally against government oppression. Borrowing from Thomas Jefferson, he added that the judiciary would help be guardians of individual rights against the other branches.
It was feared the Bill of Rights would reduce liberty?
Some in Congress argued that all the listed rights inherently belonged to citizens, and the Constitution didn’t give Congress power to take them away. Others worried that all rights not specifically listed could be infringed upon. The Ninth Amendment was introduced to address this concern that “the enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people.” Going forward, the Ninth Amendment would be used in court cases as justification for giving a broad and liberty-protective reading to the specifically enumerated rights.
Of all of America’s founding documents, the Bill of Rights may be the most visionary. Several amendments, notably the first and second, arguably provide the greatest protections against oppression. While initially guaranteeing certain individual liberties, the Bill of Rights set precedence for further amendments that expanded and protected the inalienable and constitutional rights of all Americans.