Gene’s Nickle: The 4th Amendment

Suppose your local police officer or any other government agency official carried a pad of standard forms that allowed him to search your automobile, your office, your computer, or your home. He could fill out this pre-printed form, hand it to you, and conduct his search anytime, anywhere, for anything. Your civil servant wouldn’t need evidence or even a suspicion of a crime to go through your belongings and seize your personal property.

I believe that would rightly be called government tyranny! Sadly, that happened here in America.

The American Colonies were industrious and prosperous, and soon took on the stature of “cash cow” to the British Parliament and the British Crown. At one time or another every commodity in the New World was taxed at a rate designed to discourage trade with American suppliers and encourage business with British competitors.

Rather than go out of business, Americans learned the ancient art and business of smuggling. Shoppers are always looking for the least expensive consumer goods.

The British Government countered with “writs of assistance.” These were:

“… legal search warrants that were very broad and general in their scope. Customs agents could obtain a writ of assistance to search any property they believed might contain contraband goods. They could enter someone’s property with no notice and without any reason given. Tax collectors could interrogate anyone about their use of customed goods and require the cooperation of any citizen. Searches and seizures of private property based on very general warrants became an epidemic in colonial America.”*

It is easy to visualize the abuse of these writs by petty, over-bearing tax collectors with real or imagined grievances against a colonist. Maybe you prefer picturing a high official, a Royal Governor, issuing one of these against an overly vocal citizen protestor? Either way it is evidence of high-handed, governmental tyranny.

This policy was all the more egregious because in 1604, almost 150 years prior, the concept of a man’s home is his castle was established in English law. For a century and a half, English Law had protected British citizens from illegal searches and seizures. So, these writs were an example of “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations” listed in the Declaration of Independence.

It is completely understandable, and I dare say proper, that these citizens of this brand new nation would demand the 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.”

The abuses of government were very real in Colonial America. The sacrifice of colonial blood, personal treasury, and lost loved ones from the Revolutionary War demanded that the new government be limited and accountable. The 4th Amendment was a real solution to a very real threat against liberty and freedom.


That’s my nickle
Gene Brown