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April 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-6


A Commentary on the Bill of Rights


Part 1



When the debates that surrounded the adoption of the Constitution were taking place, not everyone was convinced the instrument was wholly adequate to the charge of restraining a central government that was to be granted enormous powers.  These powers were intended to be sufficient to the task delegated to the new central government.  But this presented our Founders with a problem.  How were they to grant such enormous powers to a central government and be assured that the powers granted would not, and could not, be used in a manner dangerous to their liberties?  Even before the ratification process began, a Bill of Rights was proposed to alleviate their concerns in this area.  This listing of unalienable rights was to be included as a part of the Constitution proper. There was a good deal of disagreement among the many delegates of the Continental Convention as to just what would be proper to include in this listing.


This presented our Founders with a further conundrum.  As you remember, the war with Great Britain was not long past.  The nation was still operating under the Articles of Confederation, which, in their estimation, were not entirely adequate to the task at hand.  Other countries held large portions of the North American continent, and still others were eyeing the new continent covetously.  The future of the new nation was not comfortable, much less secured.  Time was of the essence; for the longer they delayed, the greater the possibility of misfortune.  Eventually, a majority of the delegates were persuaded to press ahead with the ratification of the instrument currently in hand, with the stipulation that they would shortly be provided with the opportunity to affix a Bill of Rights to the Constitution through the amendment process.  With the qualms of what was apparently a majority thus satisfied, the process of establishing a new constitution moved forward.


Very soon after the Constitution was duly ratified, the push for a Bill of Rights resumed.  There were many amendments proposed.  Some were accepted, and some, for all practical purposes, were lost to the mists of history.  (Remember the original Thirteenth Amendment that was proposed.)  The number finally accepted and ratified was ten.  Today, we most often refer to these first ten amendments to our Constitution as the “Bill of Rights.”


Never forget that the express purpose of the Bill of Rights was to purposefully restrain all government in general and the central government in particular.  This restraint was to apply with complete regard to the rights and liberties of the sovereign citizen and of the several sovereign states with regard to their respective relationships to the national government.  In the Bill of Rights you will find mention made of both, and with good reason.  It is my opinion that the Bill of Rights is our most precious portion of the Constitution.  Even so, it seems it is not beyond the bounds of manipulation and outright abuse.  These perversions, whatever their “good cause” may be, bode ill for the preservation of our continued liberties.


Before we commence our discussion on the Bill of Rights, I once again implore you, the legislative, the executive, and the judicial, to view these amendments through the prism of the “spirit of the debates” that took place when these amendments were proposed and ratified.  It is also necessary to include the context and history of their implementation.  The people of the time most certainly did understand the law they had adopted and implemented it accordingly.  If that is not the case, then there is very little hope that we, at this time, can ever decipher the meaning of the law and apply it rightly.  We are then left to make up our own rules as we stumble on, as best suits the whims of the day.  This would absolutely defeat the explicit purpose for which a constitution is created.  It is not to be an easily altered measure, but rather a standard of action to be honored without fail — a standard that in “all instances” favors the rights and liberties of the sovereign individual and restricts the powers wielded by government.  To view the Constitution in general, and the amendments in particular, in any other light is perfidy.


The Bill of Rights was presented in Congress on March 4, 1789. There were twelve Articles of Amendment proposed, but the requisite number of states ratified only ten.  Articles III through XII went into effect on December 15, 1791.


The beginning of the Bill of Rights reads as follows:





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.  (Emphasis added).


Here again, our Founders were not bashful about candidly stating the object of their efforts.  These Articles were proposed and ratified with the express purpose of restricting government.  And as Congress had no authority whatsoever to legislate over the “Several States,” we must come to the conclusion that said restrictions were expressly aimed at the new central government.  That is, the government of, and only the government of, the United States — the United States being that federation of sovereign states.




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