Gene’s Nickle: Bill of Rights

Can elected politicians or self-appointed leaders ever be fully trusted? Historically, the answer appears to be no!

Our Founders, mindful of this thought, spent four long months in 1787, proposing, debating, wrangling, arguing, threatening, and compromising until they hammered out a fix to the Articles of Confederation, a new Constitution. A constitution that limited the affects a politician could inflict on the population.

The Constitution spelled out limited “enumerated powers” the new government would have. However, it only listed a few specific, protected rights citizens would enjoy: protections of habeas corpus, from bills of attainder, and from ex post facto laws.

A serious debate surrounded the Constitution’s ratification: whether specific rights and liberties needed to be listed. Ratification proponents argued that citizen’s rights were protected by the constitutional limitations put on government. Opponents countered that governments, or at least the individuals governing, couldn’t be trusted; rights needed to be recorded.

During the ratification process, several states extracted a promise to amend the Constitution with a Bill of Rights. So in the First Congress, politicians or patriots produced ten amendments which the states quickly ratified.
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The First 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.”

The colonists were very familiar with the continuous struggle among the Catholic Church, the Church of England and the British Monarchy. At various times, either church had influenced the Crown, which influenced the government and usually required the commoners of England to change how they worshiped. These changes normally were brought about by war.

With sixteen words, our founders guaranteed you and I could worship how and where we pleased, and ensured there was not a state sponsored religion.

Kings, dictators, and some presidents don’t enjoy having their decisions or policies challenged in the public square. The First Amendment ensured you and I could express our political positions without fear of governmental repercussions.

Historically, news outlets are early targets dictators seek to control, by force or guile. The wisdom of keeping the American populace informed about the good or bad dealings of our leaders/betters continues. If only there was a clause requiring reporters to be accurate and thorough.

During the Revolution, the Sons of Liberty had to meet and act in secret. What they thought was civil disobedience the Crown thought was treason and sought to imprison them. Conversely, the Occupy Wall Street movement, with definite, traceable ties to international anarchical organizations, was publicly disruptive for months with relative impunity.

The inability of the Colonists to petition the Monarchy or Parliament for redress was mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. So, it is not surprising that it appears in the Bill of Rights; it is an important right that keeps the government answerable to the people.

Five natural rights a fledgling nation went to war to obtain and too many descendents take for granted.

That’s my nickle

Gene Brown