A Bill of Rights is What All Free People Are Entitled to Against Every Government

bill of rights - with james madison

by Diane Rufino, January 3, 2019

Let me add that a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference……”    –  Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, December 20, 1787

December 15 marks a very special day in our founding history – On that date in 1791, the first 14 states (Vermont had just been admitted to the Union as the 14th state), ratified the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution, known collectively as our Bill of Rights. We often take it for granted that these first ten amendments, our Bill of Rights, are included in our Constitution, but if we want to point to one reason the colonies went to war for their independence from Great Britain, it was to permanently secure the rights embodied in our Bill of Rights from all reaches of government. Without the Bill of Rights, the revolution would have been in vein.  Thomas Jefferson, probably the Founder who exerted the most pressure on James Madison for a Bill of Rights, advised: “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse.”  He wrote this to Madison on December 20, 1787, almost three months after the Constitution had been signed by its drafters in Philadelphia.

On Bill of Rights Day, we reflect upon those rights guaranteed in the first nine amendments (the tenth being a restatement of federalism – the strict separation of power between the federal government and the States) but more importantly, we should come to appreciate the efforts of certain particularly liberty-minded Founders who fought against great odds to make sure that our Constitution in fact included a Bill of Rights. After all, James Madison, considered the Constitution’s author, and most of the other Federalists did not see the need for a Bill of Rights and thought the Constitution wholly sufficient without it. That was the status of the Constitution when it went to the states for ratification.

What is a “Bill of Rights”?  A bill of rights, sometimes called a Declaration of Rights or a Charter of Rights, is a list of the most important rights belonging to the citizens of a country – rights that the King or other form of government must respect. The purpose is to protect those rights against infringement either by law or by conduct from public officials. The US Bill of Rights is the Declaration and enumeration is the individual rights memorialized in the Constitution intended to protect the individual against violations and abuses of power by the government. In that respect, our Bill of Rights is like most other bill of rights (including the English Bill of Rights is 1689 and the great Magna Carta of 1215).  This history of England, including the movement of groups of people (like the Puritans and Pilgrims), to the New World, is a history continually seeking for the recognition and security of fundamental human liberties. And early colonial history continued that tradition of setting out the rights and privileges of the individual in their government charters.

The Preamble to the Bill of Rights explains its clear purpose. It reads: “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.”

In other words, the Bill of Rights is a further limitation on the power of government, above and beyond those limitations already imposed by its very design and delegation of limited powers.

HISTORY:

Again, a Bill of Rights (or Declaration of Rights, or Charter of Rights), is a list of the most important rights belonging to the citizens of a country that the King or other form of government must respect. Bills of rights may be “entrenched” or “unentrenched.”  A bill of rights that is “entrenched” cannot be amended or repealed by the governing legislature through regular procedure, but rather, it would require a supermajority or referendum. Bills of rights that are “entrenched” are often those which are part of a country’s constitution, and therefore subject to special procedures applicable to constitutional amendments. A bill of rights that is not entrenched (“unentrenched”) is merely statutory in form and as such can be modified or repealed by the legislature at will.

The history of the world shows that there have been limited instances where the rights of the people have been enumerated and/or protected by a Bill of Rights. This history includes the following charters, documents, or bills of right:

  • Magna Carta (1215; England) rights for barons
  • Great Charter of Ireland (1216; Ireland) rights for barons – Ireland became independent of Great Britain in 1937
  • Golden Bull of 1222 (1222; Hungary) rights for nobles – which interestingly, included the right of Nullification
  • Charter of Kortenberg (1312; Belgium) rights for all citizens “rich and poor”
  • Twelve Articles (1525; Germany) – considered the first draft of human rights and civil liberties in continental Europe after the Roman Empire.
  • Petition of Right (1628; England)
  • English Bill of Rights 1689
  • Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789; France) – inspired by Thomas Jefferson
  • The US Bill of Rights (1791)

The roots of our modern-day liberty originated in England, as far back as 1100, culminating there with the English Bill of Rights in 1689 and ultimately providing the blueprint for our very own US Bill of Rights in 1791. The roots of liberty, including the roots of our very own American liberty rights, can be found in the selection of charters and documents listed below:

  • The 1100 Charter of Liberties (also called the Coronation Charter) – The 1100 Charter of Liberties was a written proclamation offered by Henry I of England and issued upon his accession to the throne in 1100. It sought to bind the King to certain laws regarding the treatment of nobles, church officials, and individuals – most notably, certain marriage rights, rights of inheritance, amnesty rights, rights for the criminally-accused, and environmental protection (forests). It is considered to be the precursor to the Magna Carta.

 

  • The Magna Carta of 1215 (“the Great Charter”) – The barons at the time, frustrated by ten years of excessive taxation by King John in order to finance a campaign to regain lands in France only to watch the King return home in defeat, consolidated their power and threatened to renounce him. Over the next eight months, they made repeated demands to the King, requesting that he give them a guarantee that he would observe their rights. But these negotiations amounted to nothing. And so, on May 5, 1215, the barons gathered and agreed to declare war on him. On May 17, the barons captured London, the largest town in England, without a fight, and finally, King John took notice. With London lost and ever more supporters flocking to the side of the barons, he sent word that he would meet with them to discuss terms of peace.. Over the next few days, the barons assembled in great numbers on the fields of Runnymede, a relatively obscure meadow that lies between the town of Staines and Windsor castle, where King John was based. Negotiations took place over the next several days and finally, on June 15, King John affixed his seal to the document that would become known as the Magna Carta (or “The Great Charter”). The Magna Carta enumerated an expansive list (63 “chapters”) of rights for barons, and also provided the remedy of Nullification.  The principles extended beyond the often-recognized origin of the “No Taxation Without Representation” doctrine in chapter 12 (and hence the creation of a “people’s body” which addressed matters of taxation and spending) and the Due Process clause of chapter 39. The concepts of “Trial by Jury” and “No Cruel Punishments” are present in chapter 21; and the forerunner of the “Confrontation Clause” of our 6th Amendment addressed in chapters 38, 40, and 44. But the most important contribution of the Magna Carta is the claim that there is a fundamental set of principles which even the King must respect. Above all else, Magna Carta makes the case that the people have a “right” to expect boundaries from the King in their lives and with respect to their property. They have a right to expect “reasonable” conduct.  [King John would go on to ignore the promises he made in signing the Magna Carta]

 

  • The Petition of Right of 1628 – In 1628, under the leadership of Sir Edward Coke, a legal scholar-turned-practical politician, Parliament petitioned Charles I, son of the recently deceased King James I, to uphold the traditional rights of Englishmen, as set forth in the Magna Carta. It was an appeal to his sense of being a just King. Charles was already on his way to being a notorious tyrant. Parliament was not only fed up with is participation in the Thirty Years War (a highly destructive European war) against its consent, but when it refused to provide Charles the revenue to fight the war, he dissolved the body (several times, actually). That would lead Charles to raise revenue other ways – by gathering “forced loans” and “ship money” without Parliamentary approval (hence, taxation without representation in violation of the Magna Carta) and arbitrarily imprisoning those who refused to pay. Among the customary “diverse rights and liberties of the subjects” listed in the Petition of Right were no taxation without consent (as mentioned), “due process of law,” the right to habeas corpus, no quartering of troops, the respect for private property, and the imposition of no cruel punishment. King Charles did not consider himself bound by the Petition and so, he simply disregarded it. He would later be officially tried for high treason by a rump Parliament and beheaded in 1649. [The Petition of Right would have a profound effect on our US Bill of Rights: The Due Process clause of the 5th Amendment, the “Criminal Trials” clause of the 6th Amendment, and the “Civil Jury Trial” clause of the 7th Amendment all are influenced by the Petition of Right.  Furthermore, during the 1760s, the American colonists articulated their grievances against King George in terms similar to those used by Lord Coke in the Petition of Right to uphold the rights of Englishmen].

 

  • The English Bill of Rights of 1689 – After the Bloodless Revolution or “Glorious Revolution” (in which the English Parliament instigated a bloodless coup, replacing King James II with his daughter, Mary II and her husband, William III), Parliament set to right the abuses of its previous kings – Charles I, Charles II, and James II. It drafted and adopted a bill of rights, known as the English Bill of Rights, as which set out certain basic civil rights and clarified the right of secession for the British Crown. It was presented to William and Mary in February 1689 as a condition to the offer to become joint ruling sovereigns of England.  It was contractual in nature so that the acceptance of the throne was tied to their express promise to recognize the rights set forth in the Bill of Rights. A violation of that agreement would terminate the right of William and Mary to rule. The Bill of Rights lays down limits on the powers of the monarch and sets out the rights of Parliament. It further, and most importantly for this discussion, sets out certain rights of the individual, including:  the right to bear arms for self-defense, the right of Due Process, the right to petition government, such criminal defense rights as the right to be free from excessive bail, the right to a jury trial for the crime of high treason, and the right against any cruel and/or unusual punishment, the guarantee that there would be no taxation without representation, the right to be free of a standing army in times of peace, and the right to be free of any quartering of troops.  [Great Britain is unlike the United States in that it has no formal Constitution; rather, the English Bill of Rights, taken together with the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 are considered, in total, as the uncodified British constitution].

 

  • The colonies being organized under grants and agreements from England, it was assumed that English traditions applied. The colonists considered themselves British subjects and as such, they believed they were entitled to all the rights and privileges of Englishmen. That is why they reacted as they did to the taxes imposed by Parliament, why one protest theme was “No Taxation Without Representation,” why the Sons of Liberty formed, why they harassed the colonial stamp collectors and stamp masters until they resigned, why they engaged in acts of civil disobedience (such as preventing the British from unloading their ships at colonial ports) or hanging colonial governors in effigy, why they tossed crates of tea into the Boston Harbor, why men like Patrick Henry called for the raising and training of colonial militias, and why they were willing to confront the Redcoats with their muskets when they sought to destroy the stockpiles of colonial ammunition. It seemed that once again, as English history has shown true, Englishmen would have to exert their rights and demand that the King to respect them. Proper boundaries would once again have to be established.

 

  • King John’s rejection of the Magna Carta (1215) and King Charles’s rejection of the Petition of Right (1628) proved to our Founding Fathers that the system established in Great Britain provided only arbitrary security for individual rights. They would need to come up with a different system of government, grounded on more “enlightened” principles and “enlightened” government philosophy. And that is exactly what they did in the Declaration of Independence – announcing that the American states were united on the concept of Individual Sovereignty, that government power originated from the People, to serve the People, and not from kings (“the Divine Right of Kings”) to serve kings.

With what many believe to be divine guidance and protection, the thirteen original colonies fought and won their independence from Great Britain in 1781. Lord Cornwallis surrendered his British troops to General George Washington, Commander of the Continental Army, on October 19, 1781 and the Treaty of Paris, signed in September 1783, marked the official end of the struggle. Since the colonies worked together in a collaborative effort to communicate grievances and concerns to King George and Parliament and to engage in a concerted effort to prevent war, but then once war came, to fight and manage the war effort, it seemed only natural to continue to collaborate in their independence. The first attempt at a loose union of states, under the Articles of Confederation, was not very successful. The government lacked the enforcement power needed to effectively act on behalf of the states, such as the power to collect revenue to pay the war debt.

Taking note of the limitations of the common government (the Confederation Congress, aka, Congress of the Confederation, or sometimes even referred to still as the Continental Congress), certain members of our founding generation instigated for a Convention to amend that government. Eventually, in February 1787, Congress called for such a Convention to meet in May in Philadelphia “to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government [the Articles of Confederation] adequate to the exigencies of the Union.” And so, the Convention did convene on May 25, 1787 in Philadelphia with delegates from all the states except Rhode Island. The Constitutional Convention, as it came to be known, quickly changed direction – from amending the Articles of Confederation to designing an altogether different form of government. James Madison would be the architect of that plan (the Virginia Plan).  The collective wisdom of the delegates at the Convention identified the weakness of the Virginia Plan, which for the colonies was the creation of a “national” government, with concentrated power in that government, rather than a “federal” government which left most of the sovereign power with the states. A federal government, with the sovereignty of the States keeping the sovereign power of the federal government in check, was the form of government that the delegates preferred. A government that could remain checked against abuses was one that honored the fiercely independent and freedom-loving nature of the colonies and one which would address the reasons for the revolution against Great Britain.

In the summer of 1787, delegates from the 13 states convened in Philadelphia and drafted a remarkable blueprint for self-government — the Constitution of the United States. The first draft set up a system of checks and balances that included a strong executive branch, a representative legislature and a federal judiciary.

The Constitution was remarkable, but deeply flawed. For one thing, it did not include a specific declaration – or bill – of individual rights. As it turned out, and luckily for us as depositories of certain “inalienable rights” as well as civil rights (those belonging to individuals living in a society, subject to the rule of law), the lack of a Bill of Rights turned out to be an obstacle to the Constitution’s ratification by the states that could not be overcome. The Federalists opposed including a bill of rights on the ground that it was unnecessary. According to James Madison, a leading Federalist, a Bill of Rights was not necessary, arguing that because the general government was one of limited powers, having only those powers specifically delegated to it and none touching on individual rights. Besides, he said, a Bill of Rights would only create confusion (inferring that any other right or privilege not listed in the Bill of Rights would be fair game for federal regulation) and also, state governments could ensure these freedoms without the need for a federal mandate. The Anti-Federalists, who were afraid of a strong centralized government and knowing that history has clearly shown that governments tend to concentrate power and tend towards centralization and then tyranny/abuse, refused to support the Constitution without one.

At the close of the Philadelphia Convention, on September 20, 1787, the delegates left with mixed feelings about the document they drafted. Of the 55 delegates to the Convention, only 39 signed it.  Of the 16 that did not sign, some left early (for business, health reasons, family concerns, or out of protest) and some refused to sign out of protest. Some of the more important delegates (ie, position and/or influence in their states) who refused to sign were the following:  George Mason of Virginia (because it did not contain a Bill of Rights), Luther Martin of Maryland (because it violated states’ rights), John Mercer of Maryland (because it did not contain a Bill of Rights), Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts (because it did not contain a Bill of Rights), John Lansing and Robert Yates, both of New York (because it created too strong of a government, which he characterized as much more “national” than “federal”), and Edmund Randolph of Virginia (because it contained insufficient checks and balances to prevent government abuse). Had some of our most active and influential founding fathers attended the Convention, there would have been far greater opposition to the final product. Those who refused to attend or who were unable to included: Patrick Henry (refused to attend, he “smelled a rat” who he believed would try to vest the common government with too much power), Richard Henry Lee (refused to attend because he too didn’t trust the motives of those who called it), Thomas Jefferson (was acting as Ambassador to France at the time, but offered to advise the delegates by correspondence), John Adams (was acting as Ambassador to Great Britain at the time), Samuel Adams (refused to attend because he rejected the purpose of the Convention) and John Hancock (refused to attend for the same reason as Sam Adams).

Many of those who refused to sign the Constitution vowed to fight its ratification at the state conventions – George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, the delegates from Maryland, Luther Martin and John Mercer, and the delegates from New York, John Lansing and Robert Yates. And some strong anti-Federalists who were not delegates at Philadelphia would oppose it as well –Richard Henry Lee, Sam Adams, John Hancock, James Monroe (Virginia), and New York’s Governor George Clinton (who wrote several anti-Federalist essays under the pen name “Cato”). Add to these “big guns” the biggest ones of all – Thomas Jefferson, who was as strong a proponent of a Bill of Rights as one could be, and Patrick Henry, perhaps our most vocal and passionate orator for liberty. Jefferson would have advised Madison to include one, and certainly would have taken issue with Madison’s position on the matter, even though he would have had to do so by correspondence. Perhaps that is the reason why Madison lapsed during the final days of the Convention in updating Jefferson as to the discussions and decisions made in the Convention. It wasn’t until a month after the Convention wrapped up, on October 24, that he finally wrote to him again and sent him a copy of the draft Constitution. We do know that as the debate intensified over a Bill of Rights, Jefferson wrote Madison with his strong opinion, including his letter of December 20, 1787, in which he wrote: “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse.”   [The Appendix at the end of this article contains the full commentary in Jefferson’s letter relating to the lack of Bill of Rights in the new Constitution].

On September 28, 1787, the Confederation Congress (aka, Congress of the Confederation) advised the states to begin calling their ratifying conventions, and several did so immediately. Madison left the Philadelphia Convention uncertain what the outcome of the ratification process would be. The dissent by Edmund Randolph and George Mason, both from his home state, and then their refusal to attach their names to the Constitution weighed very heavily on his mind. As Kevin Gutzman pointed out in his book James Madison and the Making of America, the influence that those two men alone had in the overall ratification process potentially could more than counter the entire “unanimity” of the Convention.

As we will see, Madison not only played a leading role in bringing about the Philadelphia Convention (he and Alexander Hamilton orchestrated the report to the Confederation Congress – the Annapolis Report – which made the recommendation that a convention be called in May 1787 in Philadelphia to address the defects of the Articles of Confederation), but he also played a critical supporting role (through his writings) in the debates in the state ratifying conventions, and then a more formal role when ratification seemed to be doomed. The Constitution was “his baby” and he was going to do all he could to see it adopted and a stronger union created. [In September 1786, a conference was called in Annapolis, Maryland to discuss the state of commerce in the fledgling nation. The national government had no authority to regulate trade between and among the states. The conference was called by Virginia, at the urging of Madison, to discuss ways to facilitate commerce and establish standard rules and regulations. Only five of the 13 states sent any delegates at all].

Between November 20, 1787 and January 9, 1788, five states – Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut – ratified the Constitution with relative ease, although the bitter minority report of the Pennsylvania opposition was widely circulated. Despite overwhelming success with these early conventions, the Federalists were well aware of the difficulties that lay ahead. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York were still to come and they knew that North Carolina and Rhode Island weren’t going to sign. In other words, the difficult journey still lied ahead because the anti-Federalist (opponents of the proposed Constitution) were aggressively campaigning against ratification, six states were in doubt, and the magic number of 9 states (Article VII – when 9 states ratified the Constitution, it would take effect) might never be achieved.

In the month after the close of the Convention, Madison found himself in New York and with some time to spare. It didn’t look good; too many political heavyweights were lining up against ratification. New York was unlikely to approve the Constitution. When John Lansing and Robert Yates abandoned the Philadelphia Convention, as Gutzman wrote, “they said that they had not been sent to Philadelphia to replace the Confederation with a national government.” New York’s strongest political figure, its Governor, George Clinton, sided with Lansing and Yates. Alexander Hamilton, a delegate to the Convention from NY, advised Madison that the best way to improve the chances of ratification in his state was to appeal directly to the electorate through the newspapers. After all, several anti-Federalists were already writing articles and other publications criticizing the Constitution and condemning the ambitious government it believed it created.

In addition to the anti-Federalist essays written by Governor Clinton (“Cato”), there were other, also powerful, essays published to criticize the Constitution and to highlight its many flaws. There was “Brutus” from New York (likely Robert Yates or Melancton Smith, or maybe even John Williams), “Centinel” from Pennsylvania (Samuel Bryan), “Agrippa” from Massachusetts (James Winthrop), and the “Federal Farmer” from Virginia (most likely Richard Henry Lee, or maybe Mercy Otis Warren). The is no list to identify with certainty which individuals authored the essays. Agrippa published 11 Letters “To the people,” and 5 essays “To the Massachusetts Convention” by February 5. Brutus published 11 of his 16 essays, Cato published all of his 7 essays, Centinel published 14 of his 18 letters, and Federal Farmer published all of his 18 letters between October 1787 and the start of the Massachusetts ratifying convention, which was January 9, 1788. Much to the dismay of the Federalists, the flood of Anti-federalist essays were starting to have their impact on the electorate and on more importantly, on the election of delegates, and key conventions were yet to meet (namely, New York and Virginia).  In fact, in both those states, the majority of delegates selected would be anti-Federalists.

[New York would call for its convention on February 1, select its delegates from April 29 to May 3, and set its date for June 17. Virginia would select its delegates in March, and set a date of June 2 for its convention].

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and prominent NY figure, lawyer John Jay agreed to address the anti-Federalist campaign, convinced that rejection of the Constitution would condemn the states to an unworkable union. It is likely that Madison took charge from the beginning, laying out a theme or roadmap for the essays, making sure that the criticisms of the anti-federalists were addressed, making sure the provisions of the Constitution that were most contentious were addressed and effectively explained, and that the arguments in favor of the Constitution were made that he wanted. When Jay became very ill, the bulk of the essays would have to be split between Hamilton and Madison; Jay would only be able to write 3 essays. The three men responded to each and every one of the criticisms of the anti-Federalist, in essay form, under the pen name “Publius.” Beginning in October 1787, these men penned 85 essays for New York newspapers and later collected them into 2 volumes entitled The Federalist (later to be referred to as The Federalist Papers), which addressed each concern of the anti-Federalists, analyzed the Constitution, detailed the thinking of the framers, anticipated scenarios posed by the critics, and explained what each provision meant. The Federalist Papers gave assurances that the fears of the anti-Federalists were unfounded and mere speculation and conjecture. One reading the Federalist Papers would believe the federal government to be one of strict and limited powers and without any threat of overstepping or abusing its powers. Comparing the government explained in the Federalist Papers to the one today would be to compare a pea to a grapefruit.

In contrast to its predecessor states (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut), the Massachusetts convention was angry and contentious, and at one point, it erupted into a fistfight between Federalist delegate Francis Dana and anti-Federalist Elbridge Gerry when the latter was not allowed to speak. The impasse was resolved only when revolutionary heroes and leading anti-Federalists Samuel Adams and John Hancock agreed to ratification on the condition that the convention also propose amendments. In other words, Massachusetts’ ratification was a “conditional” one. [The convention’s proposed amendments included a requirement for grand jury indictment in capital cases, which would form part of the Fifth Amendment, and an amendment reserving powers to the states not expressly given to the federal government, which would later form the basis for the Tenth Amendment. Massachusetts’ Ratification is provided in the Appendix at the end of this article].

The next contentious convention would be in Virginia – in June.

At this point, I wanted to provide a timeline of the State Ratifying Conventions:

Timeline of State Ratifying Conventions:

Delaware – December 7, 1787 –  Delaware ratified the Constitution, 30-0.  [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/delaware-ratifies-30-0/ ]

Pennsylvania – December 12, 1787 – Pennsylvania ratified, 46-23.  [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/pennsylvania-ratifies-46-23/ ]

New Jersey – December 18, 1787 –  New Jersey ratified, 38-0.  [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/new-jersey-ratifies-38-0/ ]

Georgia – December 31, 1787 – Georgia ratified, 20-0.  [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/georgia-deed-of-ratification/ ]

Connecticut – January 9, 1787 –  Connecticut ratified 128-40.  [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/connecticut-ratifies-128-40/]  

Massachusetts – February 6, 1788 – The delegates to the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention were split on whether to ratify the Constitution or reject it, and so they came up with a compromise.  The high road explanation is that responsible leaders from both parties, including Adams and Hancock, convened and said, “Look, we’ve been at this now for nearly a month. We’re not making any progress whatsoever. The country is in crisis and if Massachusetts doesn’t sign, then we’re down the tubes. Is there some way we can come to some common ground on this?” And the common ground was that Massachusetts would ratify now with an expectation that in the First Congress amendments would be proposed to alter the Constitution. This is known as the Massachusetts Compromise. And enough people bought into it because Hancock bought into it, that it swayed enough delegates to ensure ratification. So the high ground is the sense of crisis, the sense of duty, the sense of Hamilton‘s remark in Federalist 85 that states would be better off signing quickly and working within the system, and that sense that Massachusetts had a responsibility to step up and take the lead. Ultimately, the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention ratified 187-168 with 9 proposed amendments – again with the understanding and expectation that a Bill of Rights would be added.  [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/stagethree/ ]

New Hampshire – February 14, 1788  – A majority of the delegates to the New Hampshire Ratifying Convention were opposed to ratification, and so the delegates to the convention voted to postpone until June 18, at which time they would take up the issue of ratification again.  [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/stagethree/ ]

Rhode Island – March 24, 1788 – Rhode Island rejected the call for a state ratifying convention; the state had no intention of even considering a new constitution.

Maryland – April 26, 1788 – Maryland ratified 63-11.   [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/stagefour/#maryland ]

South Carolina – May 23, 1788 – South Carolina ratified, 149-73, with 5 Declarations and Resolves.  [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/tansill/ratification-southcarolina/ ]

New Hampshire – June 21, 1788 – New Hampshire ratified 57-47, with 12 proposed amendments.  [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/new-hampshire-ratifies-57-47-with-12-proposed-amendments/ ]

Virginia – June 25, 1788 –  Virginia ratified 89-79, with 20 Bill of Rights and 20 proposed amendments.  [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/virginia-ratifies-89-79-with-20-proposed-amendments/ ]

On July 2, 1788, the Confederation Congress (still under the Articles of Confederation at the time), adopted the ratification of the US Constitution. The old union (13 colonies-turned-states) was dissolved at that point and a new union, comprising the states that had ratified up until this point (DE, PA, NJ, GA, CT, MA, NH, MD, SC, and VA) was formed.

New York – July 25-26, 1788 – New York ratified on July 26, after debating the day before whether to ratify with amendments or not. It ratified by a slim margin, 30-27, with 25 Bill of Rights and 31 proposed amendments.  [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/new-york-ratifies-30-27-with-31-proposed-amendments/ ].  The first three Bill of Rights read:

(1)  That all Power is originally vested in and consequently derived from the People, and that Government is instituted by them for their common Interest Protection and Security.

(2)  That the enjoyment of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are essential rights which every Government ought to respect and preserve.

(3)  That the Powers of Government may be reassumed by the People, whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness; that every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the departments of the Government thereof, remains to the People of the several States, or to their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same; And that those Clauses in the said Constitution, which declare, that Congress shall not have or exercise certain Powers, do not imply that Congress is entitled to any Powers not given by the said Constitution; but such Clauses are to be construed either as exceptions to certain specified Powers, or as inserted merely for greater Caution.  [= “RESUMPTION CLAUSE.”  This condition to ratification, as the states of Virginia and Rhode Island also exercised this condition, is critical to understanding the reserved right of a state to secede from the Union].

(4)  That the People have an equal, natural and unalienable right, freely and peaceably to Exercise their Religion according to the dictates of Conscience, and that no Religious Sect or Society ought to be favored or established by Law in preference of others.

(5)  That the People have a right to keep and bear Arms; that a well-regulated Militia, including the body of the People capable of bearing Arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free State;

North Carolina – August 2, 1788 – North Carolina voted 184-84 against ratification.  [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/elliot/vol4/northcarolina0802/ ]

On September 13, 1788, the Confederation Congress prepared for the new government to take its place. On January 7, 1789, presidential electors were selected, and on February 4, the first election was held to select representatives to the new government under the US Constitution. The candidates receiving the top votes for president were George Washington and John Adams, and so they became the country’s first president and vice-president, respectively. James Madison was elected to the first US Congress from the state of Virginia. The first US Congress was inaugurated on March 4, and finally, on March 30, Washington was inaugurated. He delivered what would become one of the most memorable and often-cited Inaugural addresses.

The first government created by the US Constitution was installed.

North Carolina – November 21, 1789 –  North Carolina ratified 194-77, with 20 Bill of Rights and 21 proposed amendments

Rhode Island – May 29, 1790 –  Rhode Island ratified 34-32, with 18 Bill of Rights and 21 proposed amendments.  [Reference:  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/tansill/ratification-rhodeisland/ ]

***  Timeline of Ratification of the US Constitution, Reference:  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/bor/timeline/.  By clicking on the State Ratifying Convention, you can pull up the debates, the votes, and the proposed amendments associated with each state’s vote.  Also, I have included, in the Appendix at the end of this article, the proposed Bill of Rights and/or proposed amendments proposed by the certain states in their ratifications].

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Having co-written The Federalist Papers to help secure ratification in New York, James Madison left the state for Virginia, to take up the battle there. [The Virginia Convention would be held before the New York Convention, two weeks before, but as it turned out, they would continue simultaneously].  Back in Virginia, Madison would have to face Patrick Henry, George Mason, Edmund Randolph, James Monroe, Richard Henry Lee (one-time president of the Continental Congress) and William Grayson (VA representative in the Continental Congress). George Mason had authored the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights and the state constitution (chief author, at least) so he would clearly be a forceful authority on the necessity of a Bill of Rights. Mason and Lee would mount the most strenuous opposition to the proposed Constitution, in favor of amending it to include a Bill of Rights. Patrick Henry would oppose it on states’ rights grounds as well. He urged that Virginia hold out for amendments.

Virginia elected its delegates to the Convention in March 1788, and many men – many prominent men – ran for a seat. Interestingly, some of the more prominent men who chose not to run, or who did not win, included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Beverley Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, and a few others. The most prominent men who were elected included James Madison, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Governor Edmund Randolph, James Monroe, William Grayson, Edmund Pendleton, George Wythe, George Nicholas, former VA Governor Benjamin Harrison V, and John Marshall (who would go on to become our most influential Supreme Court Chief Justice). Of the 168 delegates, the majority were anti-Federalists.

In his book James Madison and the Making of America, Gutzman goes into detail with respect to Mason’s objections to the proposed Constitution. He wrote:

On October 7, Mason sent a letter to [George] Washington including his objections to the Constitution. An amended version of notes he had made during the Philadelphia Convention, this document essentially repeated complaints Mason had raised then: There was no Declaration of Rights, and the Supremacy Clause meant state declarations would be unavailing; the House was too small; the Senate had money powers, although it did not represent the people; the combination of legislative and executive powers in the Senate endangered liberty’ the federal judiciary would swallow up the state judiciaries and thus allow the rich to oppress the poor; the president lacked an executive council, which meant he would be led by the Senate; and the vice-president, in limbo between the Senate and the executive branch, was a dangerous personage – besides which he would give one state three Senate votes, which was unfair.

In addition to these objections, Mason also went public with his Philadelphia Convention prediction that the Commerce Clause would empower the eight northern states to abuse the five southern ones. There would be a tendency for Congress to read almost anything into the Necessary & Proper Clause, which threatened both states’ rights and individuals’ rights.  [James Madison and the Making of America, pg. 189]

Virginia’s Convention met from June 2 – June 27. The Convention would end up pitting Patrick Henry against James Madison, with the former spending much more time on the floor speaking.  Henry was Madison’s most formidable antagonist in the ratification fight.  Henry was perhaps our most passionate founding father, being known for his fiery speeches and his imagery. He was the voice of the revolution. As Gutzman wrote: “He was the great guardian of Virginians’ self-government and inherited rights. He was also an orator without parallel, one who could cause hair to stand up on the necks even of his most devout opponents.”  He did not disappoint at the Convention.

On June 8, he took to the floor to accuse the proposed government created by the Constitution of being a consolidated one. His position was that a confederated government (under the Articles) was being replaced by a consolidated government. He objected to the introductory phrase “We the People…,” claiming that it conjured up the notion that the government would be a consolidated national one. He wanted the language changed to “We the States…”  In his speech that day, he said:

“It is said eight States have adopted this plan. I declare that if twelve States and a half had adopted it, I would, with manly firmness, and in spite of an erring world, reject it. You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your Government. Having premised these things, I shall, with the aid of my judgment and information, which, I confess, are not extensive, go into the discussion of this system more minutely. Is it necessary for your liberty that you should abandon those great rights by the adoption of this system? Is the relinquishment of the trial by jury and the liberty of the press necessary for your liberty? Will the abandonment of your most sacred rights tend to the security of your liberty? Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessings-give us that precious jewel, and you may take every thing else: But I am fearful I have lived long enough to become an fellow: Perhaps an invincible attachment to the dearest rights of man, may, in these refined, enlightened days, be deemed old fashioned: If so, I am contented to be so: I say, the time has been when every pore of my heart beat for American liberty, and which, I believe, had a counterpart in the breast of every true American: But suspicions have gone forth-suspicions of my integrity-publicly reported that my professions are not real. 23 years ago was I supposed a traitor to my country; I was then said to be the bane of sedition, because I supported the rights of my country: I may be thought suspicious when I say our privileges and rights are in danger.”

One of the more contentious days came on June 24; the Convention was winding down. George Wythe opened the day’s proceedings with a speech in favor of ratifying the Constitution before amending it. Madison followed, emphasizing many of the same themes he and Hamilton and Jay had addressed in The Federalist essays. Just as the elderly Benjamin Franklin had urged his fellow delegates in Philadelphia to quit their bickering and work together for the greater good at, Madison essentially tried to make the same point in Richmond. As to the position that amendments should be added before Virginia ratified, Madison argued that it was unreasonable. He didn’t think it was reasonable to expect the other states (eight of them) to retract their unconditional ratifications in order to accommodate Virginia’s demand that the Constitution be first amended, and particularly to include a Bill of Rights. Up until that point, Madison had remained relatively quiet at the Convention. And even when he spoke, he came across as meek. But he was never one to project very well. When he spoke on the 24th, it was in a strained, quiet tone. But he spoke articulately and rationally, and he addressed the many concerns of the anti-Federalists.

When he concluded, he yielded the floor to Henry. From Gutzman’s book:

An account given by Federalist Archibald Stuart proves the point. Henry concluded his speech by calling attention to ‘the awful dangers” attendant upon their vote. “I see beings of a higher order, Henry thundered, “anxious concerning our decision.”  “Our own happiness alone is not affected by the event – All nations are interested in the determination. We have it in our power to secure the happiness of one half of the human race….”    [James Madison and the Making of America, pg. 233]

The Convention was getting ready to take a vote when an obscure delegate endorsed Patrick Henry’s call for a list of amendments. “The delegate said that he could not vote for ratification until he was assured that amendments protecting Virginians’ historic rights would be recommended. Madison answered that he would not oppose any ‘safe’ amendments (but continued to assert that he believed it unnecessary, and perhaps even dangerous.’” [Ibid, pg. 235]

Ultimately, on June 25, the delegates voted against first proposing amendments to the other states prior to Virginia’s ratification (ie, having the other states recall their unconditional ratification and re-consider ratification after amendments were added) and voted 89-79 in favor of ratification, with proposed amendments.  On June 27, the Convention adopted a set of 40 proposed amendments. A committee, headed by law professor George Wythe, drafted the amendments – 20 enumerated individual rights (Bill of Rights) and the other 20 enumerated states’ rights. The amendments were forwarded to the Confederation Congress. [Virginia’s Ratification is provided in the Appendix at the end of this article. Take note of its Bill of Rights – it includes a “Resumption Clause”].

While there were delegates at several conventions who supported an “amendments before” approach to ratification, it soon shifted to an “amendments after” for the sake of trying to hold the Union together. Ultimately, only North Carolina and Rhode Island waited for amendments from Congress before ratifying.

Four days prior to the conclusion of the Virginia Convention, on June 21, 1788, New Hampshire ratified the Constitution. What makes that date special is that when New Hampshire ratified, with its 12 proposed amendments, the required number of state ratifications, according to Article VII of the Constitution, had been met to establish the Constitution. [Article VII – “The ratification of the conventions of nine states, shall be sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution between the states so ratifying the same.”} The Constitution would become operational. A new union (comprised of those states that had ratified) was created and the new frame of government would be established.

The New York ratification convention met on June 17, 1788, while the Virginia Convention was still debating ratification. As with Virginia, a majority of its 67 delegates were anti-Federalists. (The New York Convention would last over month – from June 17 until July 26). On the opening day, the anti-Federalists, led by Governor Clinton, clamored for a Bill of Rights and fought to preserve the autonomy of the state against what it believed were actual and potential federal encroachments. Hamilton (the only NY delegate to the Philadelphia Convention to sign the Constitution) and the Federalists, on the other hand, contended that a stronger central government would provide a solid base from which New York could grow and prosper. While the debates were contentious, the Federalists were ultimately successful and on July 26, the Constitution was ratified by a very slim margin, 30-27, but with 25 Bill of Rights and 31 proposed amendments. The Convention also voted to call for a second federal convention.  [New York’s Ratification is provided in the Appendix at the end of this article. Take note of its Bill of Rights – it includes a “Resumption Clause”].

On September 13, 1788, the Articles of Confederation Congress certified that the new Constitution had been ratified by more than enough states for the new system to be implemented and directed the new government to meet in New York City on the first Wednesday in March the following year. On March 4, 1789, the new frame of government came into force with eleven of the thirteen states participating – and without a Bill of Rights.

Opposition to the new Constitution among leading Virginians lingered. It would continue to be a thorn in James Madison’s ass…  the man who deceived the states into sending delegates to Philadelphia believing they were tasked with proposing amendments to the Articles of Confederation (when all along, he wanted them to take up the issue of an all-new scheme of government – his scheme, the “Virginia Plan”), the man who thought his scheme had finally been realized, and the man who supposedly held that “not a letter of the Constitution” should be altered.

After Virginia’s ratification and New York’s ratification, the future of the Constitution, as ratified, was not certain.  New York wanted to call another federal convention (to amend the new Constitution?  To get rid of the new Constitution?) and several powerful Virginians, with Patrick Henry taking the lead, seemed likely to move for the same.

As fate would have it, Madison set his sights on the US Senate. But there was one problem for him – the Constitution (pre-17th Amendment) empowered the state legislatures to elect senators, but the VA state legislature (VA General Assembly) was comprised of many enemies he had made in his efforts to deceive the states at the Philadelphia Convention, to write the Constitution, and to secure its ratification, including the great Patrick Henry. And Henry and his fellow anti-Federalists got the chance to get even: in its selection of Senators,  the legislature chose Richard Henry Lee and William Grayson.

Both Richard Henry Lee and William Grayson agreed with Patrick Henry that the Constitution should have been amended to include a Bill of Rights (at the least) before it was ratified. Both, it seems, would favor a second convention.

Madison, at this point, was warming somewhat to the notion of amendments, but it’s not sure if he was warming because he agreed that a Bill of Rights is essential to limit powers of government or if he was just nervous that the issue might be the one to sink his Constitution. One thing is for certain though, he would have rather the Constitution be amended by the first option in Article V (amendments proposed by Congress and then sent to the states for adoption) than by a second convention (the second option in Article V; a convention of states). Kevin Gutzman addressed this in his book:

For one thing, some states would oppose a convention so strongly that they would reflexively oppose any amendment it might propose. For another, it would be easier to have Congress propose amendments than to follow the process in Article V of the Constitution for convening another meeting like the one at Philadelphia. Finally, another convention would include members with extreme views on both ends of the political spectrum, enflame the public mind, and produce nothing conductive to the general good. He had seen how the first convention had worked, and he did not want to hazard a second – which, too, would undermine the impression of the American republic’s stability left in European capitals by the success of the recent ratification campaign.  [James Madison and the Making of America, pg. 241]

Defeated in his bid for the US Senate, Madison decided to stand for the House of Representatives. But again, he would be at the mercy of his nemesis, Patrick Henry. Henry wielded power in the General Assembly, and that power included the ability to draw congressional districts. To spite Madison, he helped draw a map that put Montpelier (Madison’s home) in the same district as James Monroe’s house. In the Richmond Convention, Monroe had aligned himself with Henry, Mason, and Grayson and had voted “nay” on the vote for ratification. “Because Monroe had been an authentic hero in the revolution – suffering a significant wound in Washington’s great victory at Trenton – and had established a respectable legislative record in both Virginia and in the Congress of the Confederation, his opposition would be formidable.” [Ibid, pg. 241]

Madison campaigned against Monroe, and due to the contentious issue of the Constitution lacking a Bill of Rights, Madison softened on the issue of adding amendments. Perhaps all the letters that Jefferson sent him at this time emphasizing the need for a Bill of Rights had something to do with it.  “If pursued with a proper moderation and in a proper mode [meaning that the First Congress would propose amendments for the states’ approval, per Article V], they would serve the double purpose of satisfying the minds of well-meaning opponents and of providing additional guards in favor of liberty.”  [Ibid, pg. 242].  Taking Madison at his word and believing him to be a man of his word, voters selected him over Monroe for the US House of Representatives.

On March 4, 1789, the first US Congress was seated, in New York City’s Federal Hall. The first thing to do was to organize itself. On April 1, the House of Representatives elected its officers, and the Senate did the same on April 6. Also on the 6th, the House and Senate met in joint session and counted the Electoral College ballots for the selection of president. George Washington was certified as president (having been unanimously selected) and John Adams as vice president.

On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the nation’s first president, also at Federal Hall, delivering the Inaugural Address that James Madison had written for him. In that message, Washington addressed the subject of amending the Constitution. He urged the legislators:

“Whilst you carefully avoid every alteration which might endanger the benefits of an united and effective government, or which ought to await the future lessons of experience; a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen, and a regard for public harmony, will sufficiently influence your deliberations on the question, how far the former can be impregnably fortified or the latter be safely and advantageously promoted…..”

Madison knew that as long as the concerns of the anti-Federalists regarding the Constitution remained unaddressed, the threat of a new convention would remain, and so he would take the initiative to propose amendments (comprising a Bill of Rights) himself.  By taking the initiative to propose amendments himself through the Congress, he hoped to preempt a second constitutional convention that might, it was feared, undo  the difficult compromises of 1787, and open the entire Constitution to reconsideration, thus risking the dissolution of the new federal government. Writing to Jefferson, he stated, “The friends of the Constitution, some from an approbation of particular amendments, others from a spirit of conciliation, are generally agreed that the System should be revised. But they wish the revisal to be carried no farther than to supply additional guards for liberty.” He also felt that amendments guaranteeing personal liberties would “give to the Government its due popularity and stability.” Finally, he hoped that the amendments “would acquire by degrees the character of fundamental maxims of free government, and as they become incorporated with the national sentiment, counteract the impulses of interest and passion.” [Historians continue to debate the degree to which Madison considered the amendments of the Bill of Rights necessary, and to what degree he considered them politically expedient; in the outline of his address, he wrote, “Bill of Rights—useful—not essential—”].  (see Wikipedia)

On June 8, Madison introduced a series of Constitutional amendments in the House of Representatives for consideration. Among his proposals was one that would have added introductory language stressing natural rights to the Preamble. Another would apply parts of the Bill of Rights to the states as well as the federal government. Several sought to protect individual personal rights by limiting various Constitutional powers of Congress. He urged Congress to keep the revision to the Constitution “a moderate one,” limited to protecting individual rights.

Madison was deeply read in the history of government and used a range of sources in composing the amendments. The English Magna Carta inspired the right to petition and to trial by jury, for example, while the English Bill of Rights of 1689 provided an early draft for the right to keep and bear arms and also for the right against cruel and unusual punishment.

The greatest influence on Madison’s text, however, was existing state constitutions, and especially Virginia’s. Many of his amendments, including his proposed new preamble, were based on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which were drafted in 1776 by another great nemesis, anti-Federalist George Mason. To reduce future opposition to ratification, Madison also looked for recommendations shared by many states. He did provide one, however, that no state had specifically requested: “No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.” He did not include an amendment that every state had asked for, one that would have made tax assessments voluntary instead of contributions. Madison’s proposed the following constitutional amendments:

First. That there be prefixed to the Constitution a declaration, that all power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from, the people.

That Government is instituted and ought to be exercised for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

That the people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their Government, whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purposes of its institution.

Secondly. That in article 1st, section 2, clause 3, these words be struck out, to wit: “The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each State shall have at least one Representative, and until such enumeration shall be made;” and in place thereof be inserted these words, to wit: “After the first actual enumeration, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number amounts to—, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that the number shall never be less than—, nor more than—, but each State shall, after the first enumeration, have at least two Representatives; and prior thereto.”

Thirdly. That in article 1st, section 6, clause 1, there be added to the end of the first sentence, these words, to wit: “But no law varying the compensation last ascertained shall operate before the next ensuing election of Representatives.”

Fourthly. That in article 1st, section 9, between clauses 3 and 4, be inserted these clauses, to wit: The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.

The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.

The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor from applying to the legislature by petitions, or remonstrances for redress of their grievances.

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well-armed and well-regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.

No soldier shall in time of peace be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner; nor at any time, but in a manner warranted by law.

No person shall be subject, except in cases of impeachment, to more than one punishment, or one trial for the same offence; nor shall be compelled to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor be obliged to relinquish his property, where it may be necessary for public use, without a just compensation.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The rights of the people to be secured in their persons, their houses, their papers, and their other property, from all unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated by warrants issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, or not particularly describing the places to be searched, or the persons or things to be seized.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, to be informed of the cause and nature of the accusation, to be confronted with his accusers, and the witnesses against him; to have a compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

The exceptions here or elsewhere in the Constitution, made in favor of particular rights, shall not be so construed as to diminish the just importance of other rights retained by the people, or as to enlarge the powers delegated by the Constitution; but either as actual limitations of such powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution.

Fifthly. That in article 1st, section 10, between clauses 1 and 2, be inserted this clause, to wit: No State shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.

Sixthly. That, in article 3d, section 2, be annexed to the end of clause 2d, these words, to wit: But no appeal to such court shall be allowed where the value in controversy shall not amount to — dollars: nor shall any fact triable by jury, according to the course of common law, be otherwise re-examinable than may consist with the principles of common law.

Seventhly. That in article 3d, section 2, the third clause be struck out, and in its place be inserted the clauses following, to wit: The trial of all crimes (except in cases of impeachments, and cases arising in the land or naval forces, or the militia when on actual service, in time of war or public danger) shall be by an impartial jury of freeholders of the vicinage, with the requisite of unanimity for conviction, of the right with the requisite of unanimity for conviction, of the right of challenge, and other accustomed requisites; and in all crimes punishable with loss of life or member, presentment or indictment by a grand jury shall be an essential preliminary, provided that in cases of crimes committed within any county which may be in possession of an enemy, or in which a general insurrection may prevail, the trial may by law be authorized in some other county of the same State, as near as may be to the seat of the offence.

In cases of crimes committed not within any county, the trial may by law be in such county as the laws shall have prescribed. In suits at common law, between man and man, the trial by jury, as one of the best securities to the rights of the people, ought to remain inviolate.

Eighthly. That immediately after article 6th, be inserted, as article 7th, the clauses following, to wit: The powers delegated by this Constitution are appropriated to the departments to which they are respectively distributed: so that the Legislative Department shall never exercise the powers vested in the Executive or Judicial, nor the Executive exercise the powers vested in the Legislative or Judicial, nor the Judicial exercise the powers vested in the Legislative or Executive Departments.

The powers not delegated by this Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively.

Ninthly. That article 7th, be numbered as article 8th.

[References:  See the Appendix, at the end of this article, for James Madison’s Speech in the House of Representatives, June 8, 1789, proposing a Bill of Rights, and also see Wikipedia: “United States Bill of Rights”].

The House passed a joint resolution containing 17 amendments based on Madison’s proposal. The Senate changed the joint resolution to consist of 12 amendments and rejected Madison’s suggestions for the Preamble. A joint House and Senate Conference Committee settled remaining disagreements in September. On October 2, 1789, President Washington sent copies of the 12 amendments adopted by Congress to the states. Again, the states would have to call up conventions – this time to debate and ratify the proposed amendments.

In the meantime, North Carolina finally ratified the Constitution, 194-77, with 20 Bill of Rights and 21 proposed amendments. She remained true to her principles – that she would not ratify a constitution without a Bill of Rights included.  Note that while North Carolina was second to last to ratify the Constitution, she was third to ratify the Bill of Rights, on December 22, 1789).

On December 15, Virginia was the eleventh state to adopt the amendments. Having been adopted by the requisite three-fourths of the several states (there being 14 States in the Union at the time, as Vermont had been admitted into the Union on March 4, 1791), the ratification of Articles Three through Twelve was completed and they became Amendments 1 through 10 of the Constitution – also known as our US Bill of Rights. President Washington informed Congress of this on January 18, 1792.

The original First and Second amendments fell short of the required 3/4 majority to make it into the Constitution, but interestingly, the original proposed second amendment (which addressed when Congress can change its pay) finally was adopted in 1992 to become our last amendment, the 27th amendment.

Note that the US Bill of Rights applies only to action by the federal government. It places limits only on its power. As most of you may know from your state constitutions, states have included similar guarantees of liberty of their own. Article I of the North Carolina State Constitution, for example, lists the NC Bill of Rights. The 14th Amendment has been mis-applied to incorporate all guarantees of rights and privileges on the states, and in fact, the 14th amendment, even though it was never constitutionally ratified, is the number one basis for all constitutional challenges.

It is a shame that the cartoon depiction of the Bill of Rights attached leaves off the 9th and 10th Amendments. The 9th Amendment states that the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. And the 10th Amendment states that all powers not expressly delegated to the federal government by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the states are reserved to the states or to the people. These amendments underscore the unique foundation of American liberty – that government is not the ultimate sovereign and individuals enjoy only those rights and privileges the government is generous enough to grant them. In America, rights are endowed on each individual by the Creator, inseparable from our very humanity, and government power derives from the natural and inherent right of each person to govern himself and to protect himself, his family, and his property. This is the concept of Individual Sovereignty referred to in the Declaration of Independence, the document that provides the foundational principles, the rights, and expectations for each State in this Union (despite what the federal government might say). It is the document that recognized each state as an independent sovereign for the world to take note; it is the document for which the Treaty of Paris of 1783 addressed to end the war for American Independence. The treaty included this provision: “Britain acknowledges the United States (New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia[15]) to be free, sovereign, and independent states…..

James Madison wrote: “In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example … of charters of power granted by liberty. This revolution in the practice of the world, may, with an honest praise, be pronounced the most triumphant epoch of its history, and the most consoling presage of its happiness.”

I urge everyone to take time today and read the Bill of Rights and understand what each guarantees and why. After all, they protect your most essential liberty rights.

 

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References:

Kevin R.C. Gutzman, James Madison and the Making of America; St. Martin’s Press (NY), 2012.

Gordon Lloyd, “The Bill of Rights,” Teaching American History. Referenced at:  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/bor/roots-chart/

The Six Stages of Ratification – Stage III: Winter in New England: Postpone and Compromise (Massachusetts – February 6, 1788 and New Hampshire (postpones) – February 24, 1788) –http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/stagethree/

Report of the House Select Committee, July 28, 1789 –  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/report-of-the-house-select-committee/

House Debates Select Committee Report, August 13-24, 1789 –  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/house-debates-select-committee-report/

Ratification of the Constitution, State-by-State –  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/overview/

US Constitution, Virginia’s Ratification, from the Library of Congress (from its copy of Elliot’s Debates) –   https://www.usconstitution.net/rat_va.html

Day-to-Day Summary of the Virginia Ratifying Convention  –   http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/virginiatimeline/   OR  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/virginia/

US Constitution, New York’s Ratification, from the Library of Congress (from its copy of Elliot’s Debates) – https://www.usconstitution.net/rat_ny.html

Day-to-Day Summary of the New York Ratifying Convention  –  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/newyorktimeline/     OR:  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/newyork/

The Debates in the Several State Ratifying Conventions (Elliott’s Debates) – http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/elliot/   [On this site, you can click on links for the following state conventions and it will bring you to calendars so you can see what they did on a day-by-day basis: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina]

James Madison Proposes a Bill of Rights to Congress, June 8, 1789) – http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1786-1800/madison-speech-proposing-the-bill-of-rights-june-8-1789.php

United States Bill of Rights,” Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Bill_of_Rights

Patrick Henry’s Speech at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 8, 1788 – http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1786-1800/the-anti-federalist-papers/speech-of-patrick-henry-(june-5-1788).php

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, dated December 20, 1787, Founders Online –  https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-12-02-0454

Chart: Approval of the Bill of Rights in Congress and the States — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Bill_of_Rights

 

APPENDIX #1  (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, dated December 20, 1787, on the topic of the new Constitution and the lack of a Bill of Rights)

“…….I have little to fill a letter. I will therefore make up the deficiency by adding a few words on the Constitution proposed by our Convention. I like much the general idea of framing a government which should go on of itself peaceably, without needing continual recurrence to the state legislatures. I like the organization of the government into Legislative, Judiciary and Executive. I like the power given the Legislature to levy taxes; and for that reason solely approve of the greater house being chosen by the people directly. For though I think a house chosen by them will be very ill-qualified to legislate for the Union, for foreign nations etc. yet this evil does not weigh against the good of preserving inviolate the fundamental principle that the people are not to be taxed but by representatives chosen immediately by themselves. I am captivated by the compromise of the opposite claims of the great and little states, of the latter to equal, and the former to proportional influence. I am much pleased too with the substitution of the method of voting by persons, instead of that of voting by states….  There are other good things of less moment. I will now add what I do not like. First the omission of a bill of rights providing clearly and without the aid of sophisms for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction against monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land and not by the law of Nations. To say, as Mr. Wilson does that a bill of rights was not necessary because all is reserved in the case of the general government which is not given, while in the particular ones all is given which is not reserved might do for the Audience to whom it was addressed, but is surely gratis dictum, opposed by strong inferences from the body of the instrument, as well as from the omission of the clause of our present confederation which had declared that in express terms. It was a hard conclusion to say because there has been no uniformity among the states as to the cases triable by jury, because some have been so incautious as to abandon this mode of trial, therefore the more prudent states shall be reduced to the same level of calamity. It would have been much more just and wise to have concluded the other way that as most of the states had judiciously preserved this palladium, those who had wandered should be brought back to it, and to have established general right instead of general wrong. Let me add that a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference……”

[Reference:  https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-12-02-0454 ]

 

APPENDIX #2  (James Madison’s Speech in Congress, June 8, 1789, proposing a Bill of Rights)

I am sorry to be accessary to the loss of a single moment of time by the house. If I had been indulged in my motion, and we had gone into a committee of the whole, I think we might have rose, and resumed the consideration of other business before this time; that is, so far as it depended on what I proposed to bring forward. As that mode seems not to give satisfaction, I will withdraw the motion, and move you, sir, that a select committee be appointed to consider and report such amendments as are proper for Congress to propose to the legislatures of the several States, conformably to the 5th article of the constitution.

I will state my reasons why I think it proper to propose amendments; and state the amendments themselves, so far as I think they ought to be proposed. If I thought I could fulfil the duty which I owe to myself and my constituents, to let the subject pass over in silence, I most certainly should not trespass upon the indulgence of this house. But I cannot do this; and am therefore compelled to beg a patient hearing to what I have to lay before you. And I do most sincerely believe that if congress will devote but one day to this subjects, so far as to satisfy the public that we do not disregard their wishes, it will have a salutary influence on the public councils, and prepare the way for a favorable reception of our future measures.

It appears to me that this house is bound by every motive of prudence, not to let the first session pass over without proposing to the state legislatures some things to be incorporated into the constitution, as will render it as acceptable to the whole people of the United States, as it has been found acceptable to a majority of them. I wish, among other reasons why something should be done, that those who have been friendly to the adoption of this constitution, may have the opportunity of proving to those who were opposed to it, that they were as sincerely devoted to liberty and a republican government, as those who charged them with wishing the adoption of this constitution in order to lay the foundation of an aristocracy or despotism. It will be a desirable thing to extinguish from the bosom of every member of the community any apprehensions, that there are those among his countrymen who wish to deprive them of the liberty for which they valiantly fought and honorably bled. And if there are amendments desired, of such a nature as will not injure the constitution, and they can be ingrafted so as to give satisfaction to the doubting part of our fellow citizens; the friends of the federal government will evince that spirit of deference and concession for which they have hitherto been distinguished.

It cannot be a secret to the gentlemen in this house, that, notwithstanding the ratification of this system of government by eleven of the thirteen United States, in some cases unanimously, in others by large majorities; yet still there is a great number of our constituents who are dissatisfied with it; among whom are many respectable for their talents, their patriotism, and respectable for the jealousy they have for their liberty, which, though mistaken in its object, is laudable in its motive. There is a great body of the people falling under this description, who as present feel much inclined to join their support to the cause of federalism, if they were satisfied in this one point: We ought not to disregard their inclination, but, on principles of amity and moderation, conform to their wishes, and expressly declare the great rights of mankind secured under this constitution. The acquiescence which our fellow citizens shew under the government, calls upon us for a like return of moderation. But perhaps there is a stronger motive than this for our going into a consideration of the subject; it is to provide those securities for liberty which are required by a part of the community. I allude in a particular manner to those two states who have not thought fit to throw themselves into the bosom of the confederacy: it is a desirable thing, on our part as well as theirs, that a re-union should take place as soon as possible. I have no doubt, if we proceed to take those steps which would be prudent and requisite at this juncture, that in a short time we should see that disposition prevailing in those states that are not come in, that we have seen prevailing [in] those states which are.

But I will candidly acknowledge, that, over and above all these considerations, I do conceive that the constitution may be amended; that is to say, if all power is subject to abuse, that then it is possible the abuse of the powers of the general government may be guarded against in a more secure manner than is now done, while no one advantage, arising from the exercise of that power, shall be damaged or endangered by it. We have in this way something to gain, and, if we proceed with caution, nothing to lose; and in this case it is necessary to proceed with caution; for while we feel all these inducements to go into a revisal of the constitution, we must feel for the constitution itself, and make that revisal a moderate one. I should be unwilling to see a door opened for a re-consideration of the whole structure of the government, for a re-consideration of the principles and the substance of the powers given; because I doubt, if such a door was opened, if we should be very likely to stop at that point which would be safe to the government itself: But I do wish to see a door opened to consider, so far as to incorporate those provisions for the security of rights, against which I believe no serious objection has been made by any class of our constituents, such as would be likely to meet with the concurrence of two-thirds of both houses, and the approbation of three-fourths of the state legislatures. I will not propose a single alteration which I do not wish to see take place, as intrinsically proper in itself, or proper because it is wished for by a respectable number of my fellow citizens; and therefore I shall not propose a single alteration but is likely to meet the concurrence required by the constitution.

There have been objections of various kinds made against the constitution: Some were levelled against its structure, because the president was without a council; because the senate, which is a legislative body, had judicial powers in trials on impeachments; and because the powers of that body were compounded in other respects, in a manner that did not correspond with a particular theory; because it grants more power than is supposed to be necessary for every good purpose; and controls the ordinary powers of the state governments. I know some respectable characters who opposed this government on these grounds; but I believe that the great mass of the people who opposed it, disliked it because it did not contain effectual provision against encroachments on particular rights, and those safeguards which they have been long accustomed to have interposed between them and the magistrate who exercised the sovereign power: nor ought we to consider them safe, while a great number of our fellow citizens think these securities necessary.

It has been a fortunate thing that the objection to the government has been made on the ground I stated; because it will be practicable on that ground to obviate the objection, so far as to satisfy the public mind that their liberties will be perpetual, and this without endangering any part of the constitution, which is considered as essential to the existence of the government by those who promoted its adoption.

The amendments which have occurred to me, proper to be recommended by congress to the state legislatures are these:

First. That there be prefixed to the constitution a declaration–That all power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from the people. That government is instituted, and ought to be exercised for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. That the people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their government, whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purposes of its institution.

Secondly. That in article 2st. section 2, clause 3, these words be struck out, to wit, “The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at least one representative, and until such enumeration shall be made.” And that in place thereof be inserted these words, to wit, “After the first actual enumeration, there shall be one representative for every thirty thousand, until the number amount to after which the proportion shall be so regulated by congress, that the number shall never be less than nor more than but each state shall after the first enumeration, have at least two representatives; and prior thereto.”

Thirdly. That in article 2st, section 6, clause 1, there be added to the end of the first sentence, these words, to wit, “But no law varying the compensation last ascertained shall operate before the next ensuing election of representatives.”

Fourthly. That in article 2st, section 9, between clauses 3 and 4, be inserted these clauses, to wit, The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience by in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.

The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.

The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good, nor from applying to the legislature by petitions, or remonstrances for redress of their grievances.

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well-armed, and well-regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.

No soldier shall in time of peace be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner; nor at any time, but in a manner warranted by law.

No person shall be subject, except in cases of impeachment, to more than one punishment, or one trial for the same office; nor shall be compelled to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor be obliged to relinquish his property, where it may be necessary for public use, without a just compensation.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The rights of the people to be secured in their persons, their houses, their papers, and their other property from all unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated by warrants issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, or not particularly describing the places to be searched, or the persons or things to be seized.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, to be informed of the cause and nature of the accusation, to be confronted with his accusers, and the witnesses against him; to have a compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

The exceptions here or elsewhere in the constitution, made in favor of particular rights, shall not be so construed as to diminish the just importance of other rights retained by the people; or as to enlarge the powers delegated by the constitution; but either as actual limitations of such powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution.

Fifthly. That in article 2st, section 10, between clauses 1 and 2, be inserted this clause, to wit:

No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.

Sixthly. That article 3d, section 2, be annexed to the end of clause 2d, these words to wit: but no appeal to such court shall be allowed where the value in controversy shall not amount to___dollars: nor shall any fact triable by jury, according to the course of common law, be otherwise re-examinable than may consist with the principles of common law.

Seventhly. That in article 3d, section 2, the third clause be struck out, and in its place be inserted the classes following, to wit:

The trial of all crimes (except in cases of impeachments, and cases arising in the land or naval forces, or the militia when on actual service in time of war or public danger) shall be by an impartial jury of freeholders of the vicinage, with the requisite of unanimity for conviction, of the right of challenge, and other accustomed requisites; and in all crimes punishable with loss of life or member, presentment or indictment by a grand jury, shall be an essential preliminary, provided that in cases of crimes committed within any county which may be in possession of an enemy, or in which a general insurrection may prevail, the trial may by law be authorized in some other county of the same state, as near as may be to the seat of the offence.

In cases of crimes committed not within any county, the trial may by law be in such county as the laws shall have prescribed. In suits at common law, between man and man, the trial by jury, as one of the best securities to the rights of the people, ought to remain inviolate.

Eighthly. That immediately after article 6th, be inserted, as article 7th, the clauses following, to wit:

The powers delegated by this constitution, are appropriated to the departments to which they are respectively distributed: so that the legislative department shall never exercise the powers vested in the executive or judicial; nor the executive exercise the powers vested in the legislative or judicial; nor the judicial exercise the powers vested in the legislative or executive departments.

The powers not delegated by this constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively.

Ninthly. That article 7th, be numbered as article 8th.  The first of these amendments, relates to what may be called a Bill of Rights; I will own that I never considered this provision so essential to the federal constitution, as to make it improper to ratify it, until such an amendment was added; at the same time, I always conceived, that in a certain form and to a certain extent, such a provision was neither improper nor altogether useless. I am aware, that a great number of the most respectable friends to the government and champions for republican liberty, have thought such a provision, not only unnecessary, but even improper, nay, I believe some have gone so far as to think it even dangerous. Some policy has been made use of perhaps by gentlemen on both sides of the question: I acknowledge the ingenuity of those arguments which were drawn against the constitution, by a comparison with the policy of Great Britain, in establishing a declaration of rights; but there is too great a difference in the case to warrant the comparison: therefore the arguments drawn from that source, were in a great measure inapplicable. In the declaration of rights which that country has established, the truth is, they have gone no farther, than to raise a barrier against the power of the crown; the power of the legislature is left altogether indefinite. Although I know whenever the great rights, the trial by jury, freedom of the press, or liberty of conscience, came in question in that body, the invasion of them is resisted by able advocates, yet their Magna Charta does not contain any one provision for the security of those rights, respecting which, the people of America are most alarmed. The freedom of the press and rights of conscience, those choicest privileges of the people, are unguarded in the British constitution.

But although the case may be widely different, and it may not be thought necessary to provide limits for the legislative power in that country, yet a different opinion prevails in the United States. The people of many states, have thought it necessary to raise barriers against power in all forms and departments of government, and I am inclined to believe, if once bills of rights are established in all the states as well as the federal constitution, we shall find the although some of them are rather unimportant, yet, upon the whole, they will have a salutary tendency.

It may be said, in some instances they do no more than state the perfect equality of mankind; this to be sure is an absolute truth, yet it is not absolutely necessary to be inserted at the head of a constitution.

In some instances they assert those rights which are exercised by the people in forming and establishing a plan of government. In other instances, they specify those rights which are retained when particular powers are given up to be exercised by the legislature. In other instances, they specify positive rights, which may seem to result from the nature of the compact. Trial by jury cannot be considered as a natural right, but a right resulting from the social compact which regulates the action of the community, but is as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature. In other instances they lay down dogmatic maxims with respect to the construction of the government; declaring, that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches shall be kept separate and distinct: Perhaps the best way of securing this in practice is to provide such checks, as will prevent the encroachment of the one upon the other.

But whatever may be [the] form which the several states have adopted in making declarations in favor of particular rights, the great object in view is to limit and qualify the powers of government, by excepting out of the grant of power those cases in which the government ought not to act, or to act only in a particular mode. They point these exceptions sometimes against the abuse of the executive power, sometimes against the legislative, and, in some cases, against the community itself; or, in other words, against the majority in favor of the minority.

In our government it is, perhaps, less necessary to guard against the abuse in the executive department than any other; because it is not the stronger branch of the system, but the weaker: It therefore must be levelled against the legislative, for it is the most powerful, and most likely to be abused, because it is under the least control; hence, so far as a declaration of rights can tend to prevent the exercise of undue power, it cannot be doubted but such declaration is proper. But I confess that I do conceive, that in a government modified like this of the United States, the great danger lies rather in the abuse of the community than in the legislative body. The prescriptions in favor of liberty, ought to be levelled against that quarter where the greatest danger lies, namely, that which possesses the highest prerogative of power: But this [is] not found in either the executive or legislative departments of government, but in the body of the people, operating by the majority against the minority.

It may be thought all paper barriers against the power of the community are too weak to be worthy of attention. I am sensible they are not so strong as to satisfy gentlemen of every description who have seen and examined thoroughly the texture of such a defense; yet, as they have a tendency to impress some degree of respect for them, to establish the public opinion in their favor, and rouse the attention of the whole community, it may be one mean to control the majority from those acts to which they might be otherwise inclined.

It has been said by way of objection to a bill of rights, by many respectable gentlemen out of doors, and I find opposition on the same principles likely to be made by gentlemen on this floor, that they are unnecessary articles of a republican government, upon the presumption that the people have those rights in their own hands, and that is the proper place for them to rest. It would be a sufficient answer to say that this objection lies against such provisions under the state governments as well as under the general government; and there are, I believe, but few gentlemen who are inclined to push their theory so far as to say that a declaration of rights in those cases is either ineffectual or improper.

It has been said that in the federal government they are unnecessary, because the powers are enumerated, and it follows that all that are not granted by the constitution are retained: that the constitution is a bill of powers, the great residuum being the rights of the people; and therefore a bill of rights cannot be so necessary as if the residuum was thrown into the hands of the government. I admit that these arguments are not entirely without foundation; but they are not conclusive to the extent which has been supposed. It is true the powers of the general government are circumscribed; they are directed to particular objects; but even if government keeps within those limits, it has certain discretionary powers with respect to the means, which may admit of abuse to a certain extent, in the same manner as the powers of the state governments under their constitutions may to an indefinite extent; because in the constitution of the United States there is a clause granting to Congress the power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution all the powers vested in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof; this enables them to fulfil every purpose for which the government was established. Now, may not laws be considered necessary and proper by Congress, for it is them who are to judge of the necessity and propriety to accomplish those special purposes which they may have in contemplation, which laws in themselves are neither necessary or proper; as well as improper laws could be enacted by the state legislatures, for fulfilling the more extended objects of those governments. I will state an instance which I think in point, and proves that this might be the case. The general government has a right to pass all laws which shall be necessary to collect its revenue; the means for enforcing the collection are within the direction of the legislature: may not general warrants be considered necessary for this purpose, as well as for some purposes which it was supposed at the framing of their constitutions the state governments had in view. If there was reason for restraining the state governments from exercising this power, there is like reason for restraining the federal government.

It may be said, because it has been said, that a Bill of Rights is not necessary, because the establishment of this government has not repealed those declarations of rights which are added to the several state constitutions: that those rights of the people, which had been established by the most solemn act, could not be annihilated by a subsequent act of the people, who meant, and declared at the head of the instrument, that they ordained and established a new system, for the express purpose of securing to themselves and posterity the liberties they had gained by an arduous conflict.

I admit the force of this observation, but I do not look upon it to be conclusive. In the first place, it is too uncertain ground to leave this provision upon, if a provision is at all necessary to secure rights so important as many of those I have mentioned are conceived to be, by the public in general, as well as those in particular who opposed the adoption of this constitution. Beside some states have no bills of rights, there are others provided with very defective ones, and there are others whose bills of rights are not only defective, but absolutely improper; instead of securing some in the full extent which republican principles would require, they limit them too much to agree with the common ideas of liberty.

It has been objected also against a Bill of Rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration, and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the general government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that may be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the 4th resolution.

It has been said, that it is necessary to load the constitution with this provision, because it was not found effectual in the constitution of the particular states. It is true, there are a few particular states in which some of the most valuable articles have not, at one time or other, been violated; but does it not follow but they may have, to a certain degree, a salutary effect against the abuse of power. If they are incorporated into the constitution, independent tribunals of justice will consider themselves in a peculiar manner the guardians of those rights; they will be an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislative or executive; they will be naturally led to resist every encroachment upon rights expressly stipulated for in the constitution by the declaration of rights. Beside this security, there is a great probability that such a declaration in the federal system would be enforced; because the state legislatures will jealously and closely watch the operation of this government, and be able to resist with more effect every assumption of power than any other power on earth can do; and the greatest opponents to a federal government admit the state legislatures to be sure guardians of the people’s liberty. I conclude from this view of the subject, that it will be proper in itself, and highly politic, for the tranquility of the public mind, and the stability of the government, that we should offer something, in the form I have proposed, to be incorporated in the system of government, as a Declaration of the Rights of the people.

In the next place I wish to see that part of the constitution revised which declares, that the number of representatives shall not exceed the proportion of one for every thirty thousand persons, and allows one representative to every state which rates below that proportion. If we attend to the discussion of this subject, which has taken place in the state conventions, and even in the opinion of the friends to the constitution, an alteration here is proper. It is the sense of the people of America, that the number of representatives ought to be increased, but particularly that it should not be left in the discretion of the government to diminish them, below that proportion which certainly is in the power of the legislature as the constitution now stands; and they may, as the population of the country increases, increase the house of representatives to a very unwieldy degree. I confess I always thought this part of the constitution defective, though not dangerous; and that it ought to be particularly attended to whenever congress should go into the consideration of amendments.

There are several lesser cases enumerated in my proposition, in which I wish also to see some alteration take place. That article which leaves it in the power of the legislature to ascertain its own emolument is one to which I allude. I do not believe this is a power which, in the ordinary course of government, is likely to be abused, perhaps of all the powers granted, it is least likely to abuse; but there is a seeming impropriety in leaving any set of men without control to put their hand into the public coffers, to take out money to put in their pockets; there is a seeming indecorum in such power, which leads me to propose a change. We have a guide to this alteration in several of the amendments which the different conventions have proposed. I have gone therefore so far as to fix it, that no law, varying the compensation, shall operate until there is a change in the legislature; in which case it cannot be for the particular benefit of those who are concerned in determining the value of the service.

I wish also, in revising the constitution, we may throw into that section, which interdicts the abuse of certain powers in the state legislatures, some other provisions of equal if not greater importance than those already made. The words, “No state shall pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, etc.” were wise and proper restrictions in the constitution. I think there is more danger of those powers being abused by the state governments than by the government of the United States. The same may be said of other powers which they possess, if not controlled by the general principle, that laws are unconstitutional which infringe the rights of the community. I should therefore wish to extend this interdiction, and add, as I have stated in the 5th resolution, that no state shall violate the equal right of conscience, freedom of the press, or trial by jury in criminal cases; because it is proper that every government should be disarmed of powers which trench upon those particular rights. I know in some of the state constitutions the power of the government is controlled by such a declaration, but others are not. I cannot see any reason against obtaining even a double security on those points; and nothing can give a more sincere proof of the attachment of those who opposed this constitution to these great and important rights, than to see them join in obtaining the security I have now proposed; because it must be admitted, on all hands, that the state governments are as liable to attack these invaluable privileges as the general government is, and therefore ought to be as cautiously guarded against.

I think it will be proper, with respect to the judiciary powers, to satisfy the public mind on those points which I have mentioned. Great inconvenience has been apprehended to suitors from the distance they would be dragged to obtain justice in the supreme court of the United States, upon an appeal on an action for a small debt. To remedy this, declare, that no appeal shall be made unless the matter in controvers amounts to a particular sum:

This, with the regulations respecting jury trials in criminal cases, and suits at common law, it is to be hoped will quiet and reconcile the minds of the people to that part of the constitution.

I find, from looking into the amendments proposed by the state conventions, that several are particularly anxious that it should be declared in the Constitution, that the powers not therein delegated, should be reserved to the several states. Perhaps words which may define this more precisely, than the whole of the instrument now does, may be considered as superfluous. I admit they may be deemed unnecessary; but there can be no harm in making such a declaration, if gentlemen will allow that the fact is as stated. I am sure I understand it so, and do therefore propose it.

These are the points on which I wish to see a revision of the Constitution take place. How far they will accord with the sense of this body, I cannot take upon me absolutely to determine; but I believe every gentlemen will readily admit that nothing is in contemplation, so far as I have mentioned, that can endanger the beauty of the government in any one important feature, even in the eyes of its most sanguine admirers. I have proposed nothing that does not appear to me as proper in itself, or eligible as patronized by a respectable number of our fellow citizens; and if we can make the constitution better in the opinion of those who are opposed to it, without weakening its frame, or abridging its usefulness, in the judgment of those who are attached to it, we act the part of wise and liberal men to make such alterations as shall produce that effect.

Having done what I conceived was my duty, in bringing before this house the subject of amendments, and also stated such as wish for and approve, and offered the reasons which occurred to me in their support; I shall content myself for the present with moving, that a committee be appointed to consider of and report such amendments as ought to be proposed by congress to the legislatures of the states, to become, if ratified by three-fourths thereof, part of the Constitution of the United States. By agreeing to this motion, the subject may be going on in the committee, while other important business is proceeding to a conclusion in the house. I should advocate greater dispatch in the business of amendments, if I was not convinced of the absolute necessity there is of pursuing the organization of the government; because I think we should obtain the confidence of our fellow citizens, in proportion as we fortify the rights of the people against the encroachments of the government.

[Reference:  http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1786-1800/madison-speech-proposing-the-bill-of-rights-june-8-1789.php ]

 

APPENDIX #3  (STATE RATIFICATIONS):

I.  NEW YORK RATIFICATION (on July 26, 1788), with 25 Bill of Rights:

WE the Delegates of the People of the State of New York, duly elected and Met in Convention, having maturely considered the Constitution for the United States of America, agreed to on the seventeenth day of September, in the year One thousand Seven hundred and Eighty seven, by the Convention then assembled at Philadelphia in the Common—wealth of Pennsylvania (a Copy whereof precedes these presents) and having also seriously and deliberately considered the present situation of the United States, Do declare and make known.

— That all Power is originally vested in and consequently derived from the People, and that Government is instituted by them for their common Interest Protection and Security.

—  That the enjoyment of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are essential rights which every Government ought to respect and preserve.

—  That the Powers of Government may be reassumed by the People, whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness; that every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the departments of the Government thereof, remains to the People of the several States, or to their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same; And that those Clauses in the said Constitution, which declare, that Congress shall not have or exercise certain Powers, do not imply that Congress is entitled to any Powers not given by the said Constitution; but such Clauses are to be construed either as exceptions to certain specified Powers, or as inserted merely for greater Caution.  [Note:  This provision, or condition is known as a “RESUMPTION CLAUSE.”  This condition to ratification, as the states of Virginia and Rhode Island also exercised this condition, is critical to understanding the reserved right of a state to secede from the Union].

—  That the People have an equal, natural and unalienable right, freely and peaceably to Exercise their Religion according to the dictates of Conscience, and that no Religious Sect or Society ought to be favored or established by Law in preference of others.

—  That the People have a right to keep and bear Arms; that a well-regulated Militia, including the body of the People capable of bearing Arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free State;

—  That the Militia should not be subject to Martial Law except in time of War, Rebellion or Insurrection.

—  That standing Armies in time of Peace are dangerous to Liberty, and ought not to be kept up, except in Cases of necessity; and that at all times, the Military should be under strict Subordination to the civil Power.

—  That in time of Peace no Soldier ought to be quartered in any House without the consent of the Owner, and in time of War only by the Civil Magistrate in such manner as the Laws may direct.

—  That no Person ought to be taken imprisoned, or disseised of his freehold, or be exiled or deprived of his Privileges, Franchises, Life, Liberty or Property but by due process of Law.

—  That no Person ought to be put twice in Jeopardy of Life or Limb for one and the same Offence, nor, unless in case of impeachment, be punished more than once for the same Offence.

—  That every Person restrained of his Liberty is entitled to an enquiry into the lawfulness of such restraint, and to a removal thereof if unlawful, and that such enquiry and removal ought not to be denied or delayed, except when on account of Public Danger the Congress shall suspend the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus.

—  That excessive Bail ought not to be required; nor excessive Fines imposed; nor Cruel or unusual Punishments inflicted.

—  That (except in the Government of the Land and Naval Forces, and of the Militia when in actual Service, and in cases of Impeachment) a Presentment or Indictment by a Grand Jury ought to be observed as a necessary preliminary to the trial of all Crimes cognizable by the Judiciary of the United States, and such Trial should be speedy, public, and by an impartial Jury of the County where the Crime was committed; and that no person can be found Guilty without the unanimous consent of such Jury. But in cases of Crimes not committed within any County of any of the United States, and in Cases of Crimes committed within any County in which a general Insurrection may prevail, or which may be in the possession of a foreign Enemy, the enquiry and trial may be in such County as the Congress shall by Law direct; which County in the two Cases last mentioned should be as near as conveniently may be to that County in which the Crime may have been committed. And that in all Criminal Prosecutions, the Accused ought to be informed of the cause and nature of his Accusation, to be confronted with his accusers and the Witnesses against him, to have the means of producing his Witnesses, and the assistance of Council for his defense, and should not be compelled to give Evidence against himself.

—  That the trial by Jury in the extent that it obtains by the Common Law of England is one of the greatest securities to the rights of a free People, and ought to remain inviolate.

—  That every Freeman has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches and seizures of his person his papers or his property, and therefore, that all Warrants to search suspected places or seize any Freeman his papers or property, without information upon Oath or Affirmation of sufficient cause, are grievous and oppressive; and that all general Warrants (or such in which the place or person suspected are not particularly designated) are dangerous and ought not to be granted.

—  That the People have a right peaceably to assemble together to consult for their common good, or to instruct their Representatives; and that every person has a right to Petition or apply to the Legislature for redress of Grievances.

—  That the Freedom of the Press ought not to be violated or restrained.

—  That there should be once in four years an Election of the President and Vice President, so that no Officer who may be appointed by the Congress to act as President in case of the removal, death, resignation or inability of the President and Vice President can in any case continue to act beyond the termination of the period for which the last President and Vice President were elected.

—  That nothing contained in the said Constitution is to be construed to prevent the Legislature of any State from passing Laws at its discretion from time to time to divide such State into convenient Districts, and to apportion its Representatives to and amongst such Districts.

—  That the Prohibition contained in the said Constitution against ex post facto Laws, extends only to Laws concerning Crimes.

—  That all Appeals in Causes determineable according to the course of the common Law, ought to be by Writ of Error and not otherwise.

—  That the Judicial Power of the United States in cases in which a State may be a party, does not extend to criminal Prosecutions, or to authorize any Suit by any Person against a State.

—  That the Judicial Power of the United States as to Controversies between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States is not to be construed to extend to any other Controversies between them except those which relate to such Lands, so claimed under Grants of different States.

—  That the Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the United States, or of any other Court to be instituted by the Congress, is not in any case to be increased enlarged or extended by any Fiction Collusion or mere suggestion;

—  And That no Treaty is to be construed so to operate as to alter the Constitution of any State.

Under these impressions and declaring that the rights aforesaid cannot be abridged or violated, and that the Explanations aforesaid are consistent with the said Constitution, And in confidence that the Amendments which shall have been proposed to the said Constitution will receive an early and mature Consideration: We the said Delegates, in the Name and in the behalf of the People of the State of New York Do by these presents Assent to and Ratify the said Constitution. In full Confidence nevertheless that until a Convention shall be called and convened for proposing Amendments to the said Constitution, the Militia of this State will not be continued in Service out of this State for a longer term than six weeks without the Consent of the Legislature thereof; — that the Congress will not make or alter any Regulation in this State respecting the times places and manner of holding Elections for Senators or Representatives unless the Legislature of this State shall neglect or refuse to make Laws or regulations for the purpose, or from any circumstance be incapable of making the same, and that in those cases such power will only be exercised until the Legislature of this State shall make provision in the Premises; — that no Excise will be imposed on any Article of the Growth production or Manufacture of the United States, or any of them within this State, Ardent Spirits excepted; And that the Congress will not lay direct Taxes within this State, but when the Monies arising from the Impost and Excise shall be insufficient for the public Exigencies, nor then, until Congress shall first have made a Requisition upon this State to assess levy and pay the Amount of such Requisition made agreeably to the Census fixed in the said Constitution in such way and manner as the Legislature of this State shall judge best, but that in such case, if the State shall neglect or refuse to pay its proportion pursuant to such Requisition, then the Congress may assess and levy this States proportion together with Interest at the Rate of six per Centum per Annum from the time at which the same was required to be paid.

[Reference:  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/new-york-ratifies-30-27-with-31-proposed-amendments/ ].

 

II.  VIRGINIA RATIFICATION (June 25, 1788), with 20 Bill of Rights and 20 proposed amendments:

Ratification of the Constitution by the State of Virginia, June 26, 1788. Virginia ratified the Constitution in two steps. The first was the declaration of ratification. The second was a recommendation that a bill of rights be added to the Constitution, and that a list of amendments also be added in accordance with Article 5.  [Reference: https://www.usconstitution.net/rat_va.html ]

Step 1:

WE the Delegates of the people of Virginia, duly elected in pursuance of a recommendation from the General Assembly, and now met in Convention, having fully and freely investigated and discussed the proceedings of the Federal Convention, and being prepared as well as the most mature deliberation hath enabled us, to decide thereon, DO in the name and in behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will: that therefore no right of any denomination, can be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified, by the Congress, by the Senate or House of Representatives acting in any capacity, by the President or any department or officer of the United States, except in those instances in which power is given by the Constitution for those purposes: and that among other essential rights, the liberty of conscience and of the press cannot be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified by any authority of the United States.  [Note:  This provision, or condition is known as a “RESUMPTION CLAUSE.”  This condition to ratification, as the states of New York and Rhode Island also exercised this condition, is critical to understanding the reserved right of a state to secede from the Union].

With these impressions, with a solemn appeal to the searcher of hearts for the purity of our intentions, and under the conviction, that, whatsoever imperfections may exist in the Constitution, ought rather to be examined in the mode prescribed therein, than to bring the Union into danger by a delay, with a hope of obtaining amendments previous to the ratification.

Step 2:  Virginia, do by these presents assent to, and ratify the Constitution recommended on the seventeenth day of September, one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven (September 17, 1787), by the Federal Convention for the Government of the United States; hereby announcing to all those whom it may concern, that the said Constitution is binding upon the said People, according to an authentic copy hereto annexed, in the words following:

Wythe reported, from the Committee appointed, such amendments to the proposed Constitution of Government for the United States, as were by them deemed necessary to be recommended to the consideration of the Congress which shall first assemble under the said Constitution, to be acted upon according to the mode prescribed in the fifth article thereof; and he read the same in his place, and afterwards delivered them in at the clerk’s table, where the same were again read, and are as follows:

That there be a Declaration or Bill of Rights asserting and securing from encroachment the essential and unalienable rights of the people in some such manner as the following:

1st. That there are certain natural rights of which men when they form a social compact cannot deprive or divest their posterity, among which are the enjoyment of life, and liberty, with the means of acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

2d. That all power is naturally vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates therefore are their trustees, and agents, and at all times amenable to them.

3d. That the Government ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the people; and that the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive to the good and happiness of mankind.

4th. That no man or set of men are entitled to exclusive or separate public emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services; which not being descendible, neither ought the offices of magistrate, legislator or judge, or any other public office to be hereditary.

5th. That the legislative, executive and judiciary powers of government should be separate and distinct, and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression by feeling and participating the public burthens, they should at fixed periods be reduced to a private station, return into the mass of the people; and the vacancies be supplied by certain and regular elections, in which all or any part of the former members to be eligible or ineligible, as the rules of the Constitution of Government, and the laws shall direct.

6th. That elections of Representatives in the legislature ought to be free and frequent, and all men having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to the community, ought to have the right of suffrage: and no aid, charge, tax or fee can be set, rated, or levied upon the people without their own consent, or that of their representatives, so elected, nor can they be bound by any law, to which they have not in like manner assented for the public good.

7th. That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws by any authority without the consent of the representatives, of the people in the legislature, is injurious to their rights, and ought not to be exercised.

8th. That in all capital and criminal prosecutions, a man hath a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence and be allowed counsel in his favor, and to a fair and speedy trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty (except in the government of the land and naval forces) nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself.

9th. That no freeman ought to be taken, imprisoned, or disseized of his freehold, liberties, privileges or franchises, or outlawed or exiled, or in any manner destroyed or deprived of his life, liberty, or property but by the law of the land.

10th. That every freeman restrained of his liberty is entitled to a remedy to enquire into the lawfulness thereof, and to remove the same, if unlawful, and that such remedy ought not to be denied nor delayed.

11th. That in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the ancient trial by jury is one of the greatest securities to the rights of the people, and ought to remain sacred and inviolable.

12th. That every freeman ought to find a certain remedy by recourse to the laws for all injuries and wrongs he may receive in his person, property, or character. He ought to obtain right and justice freely without sale, completely and without denial, promptly and without delay, and that all establishments, or regulations contravening these rights, are oppressive and unjust.

13th. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

14th. That every freeman has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches, and seizures of his person, his papers, and property; all warrants therefore to search suspected places, or seize any freeman, his papers or property, without information upon oath (or affirmation of a person religiously scrupulous of taking an oath) of legal and sufficient cause, are grievous and oppressive, and all general warrants to search suspected places, or to apprehend any suspected person without specially naming or describing the place or person, are dangerous and ought not to be granted.

15th. That the people have a right peaceably to assemble together to consult for the common good, or to instruct their representatives; and that every freeman has a right to petition or apply to the Legislature for redress of grievances.

16th. That the people have a right to freedom of speech, and of writing and publishing their sentiments; that the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and ought not to be violated.

17th. That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated militia composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free state. That standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power.

18th. That no soldier in time of peace ought to be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner, and in time of war in such manner only as the laws direct.

19th. That any person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms ought to be exempted upon payment of an equivalent to employ another to bear arms in his stead.

20th. That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men have an equal, natural and unalienable right to the exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience, and that no particular sect or society ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others.

[References:  https://www.usconstitution.net/rat_va.html  and http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/virginia-ratifies-89-79-with-20-proposed-amendments/ ]

 

III.  MASSACUSETTS RATIFICATION (“Conditional Ratification,” February 6, 1788), with 9 proposed amendments:

The Convention have impartially discussed, and fully considered the Constitution for the United States of America, reported to Congress by the Convention of Delegates from the United States of America, and submitted to us by a resolution of the General Court of the said Commonwealth, passed the twenty fifth day of October last past, and acknowledging with grateful hearts, the goodness of the Supreme Ruler of the Universe in affording the People of the United States in the course of his providence an opportunity deliberately and peaceably without fraud or surprise of entering into an explicit and solemn Compact with each other by assenting to and ratifying a New Constitution in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure Domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of Liberty to themselves and their posterity; Do in the name and in behalf of the People of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts assent to and ratify the said Constitution for the United States of America.

And as it is the opinion of this Convention that certain amendments and alterations in the said Constitution would remove the fears and quiet the apprehensions of many of the good people of this Commonwealth and more effectually guard against an undue administration of the Federal Government, The Convention do therefore recommend that the following alterations and provisions be introduced into the said Constitution.

First, That it be explicitly declared that all Powers not expressly delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are reserved to the several States to be by them exercised.

Secondly, That there shall be one representative to every thirty thousand persons according to the Census mentioned in the Constitution until the whole number of the Representatives amounts to Two hundred.

Thirdly, That Congress do not exercise the powers vested in them by the fourth Section of the first article, but in cases when a State shall neglect or refuse to make the regulations therein mentioned or shall make regulations subversive of the rights of the People to a free and equal representation in Congress agreeably to the Constitution.

Fourthly, That Congress do not lay direct Taxes but when the Monies arising from the Impost and Excise are insufficient for the public exigencies nor then until Congress shall have first made a requisition upon the States to assess levy and pay their respective proportions of such Requisition agreeably to the Census fixed in the said Constitution; in such way and manner as the Legislature of the States shall think best, and in such case if any State shall neglect or refuse to pay its proportion pursuant to such requisition then Congress may assess and levy such State’s proportion together with interest thereon at the rate of Six per cent per annum from the time of payment prescribed in such requisition.

Fifthly, That Congress erect no Company of Merchants with exclusive advantages of commerce.

Sixthly, That no person shall be tried for any Crime by which he may incur an infamous punishment or loss of life until he be first indicted by a Grand Jury, except in such cases as may arise in the Government and regulation of the Land and Naval forces.

Seventhly, The Supreme Judicial Federal Court shall have no jurisdiction of Causes between Citizens of different States unless the matter in dispute whether it concerns the realty or personally be of the value of three thousand dollars at the least. nor shall the Federal Judicial Powers extend to any actions between Citizens of different States where the matter in dispute whether it concerns the Realty or personally is not of the value of Fifteen hundred dollars at the least.

Eighthly, In civil actions between Citizens of different States every issue of fact arising in Actions at common law shall be tried by a Jury if the parties or either of them request it.

Ninthly, Congress shall at no time consent that any person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States shall accept of a title of Nobility or any other title or office from any King, prince or Foreign State.

And the Convention do in the name and in behalf of the People of this Commonwealth enjoin it upon their Representatives in Congress at all times until the alterations and provisions aforesaid have been considered agreeably to the Fifth article of the said Constitution to exert all their influence and use all reasonable and legal methods to obtain a ratification of the said alterations and provisions in such manner as is provided in the said Article.

[Reference:  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/massachusetts-ratifies-187-168-with-9-proposed-amendments/ ]

 

 IV.  SOUTH CAROLINA RATIFICATION (May 23, 1788), with 5 Declarations and Resolves

And Whereas it is essential to the preservation of the rights reserved to the several states, and the freedom of the people under the operations of a General government that the right of prescribing the manner time and places of holding the Elections to the Federal Legislature, should be forever inseparably annexed to the sovereignty of the several states. This convention doth declare that the same ought to remain to all posterity a perpetual and fundamental right in the local, exclusive of the interference of the General Government except in cases where the Legislatures of the States, shall refuse or neglect to perform and fulfil the same according to the tenor of the said Constitution.

This Convention doth also declare that no Section or paragraph of the said Constitution warrants a Construction that the states do not retain every power not expressly relinquished by them and vested in the General Government of the Union.

Resolved that the general Government of the United States ought never to impose direct taxes, but where the monies arising from the duties, imposts and excise are insufficient for the public exigencies nor then until Congress shall have made a requisition upon the states to Assess levy and pay their respective proportions of such requisitions And in case any state shall neglect or refuse to pay its proportion pursuant to such requisition then Congress may assess and levy such state’s proportion together with Interest thereon at the rate of six per centum per annum from the time of payment prescribed by such requisition

Resolved that the third section of the Sixth Article ought to be amended by inserting the word “other” between the words “no” and “religious,”

Resolved that it be a standing instruction to all such delegates as may hereafter be elected to represent this State in the general Government to exert their utmost abilities and influence to effect an Alteration of the Constitution conformably to the foregoing Resolutions.

Done in Convention the twenty third day of May in the year of our Lord One thousand Seven hundred and eighty eight and of the Independence of the United States of America the twelfth

[Reference:  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/tansill/ratification-southcarolina/ ]

 

V.  NEW HAMPSHIRE RATIFICATION (June 21, 1788), with 12 proposed amendments:

In Convention of the Delegates of the People of the State of New—Hampshire June the Twenty first 1788.

The Convention having Impartially discussed and fully considered the Constitution for the United States of America, reported to Congress by the Convention of Delegates from the United States of America & submitted to us by a Resolution of the General Court of said State passed the fourteenth Day of December last past and acknowleging with grateful Hearts the goodness of the Supreme ruler of the Universe in affording the People of the United States in the Course of his Providence an Opportunity, deliberately & peaceably without fraud or surprise of entering into an Explicit and solemn compact with each other by assenting to & ratifying a new Constitution in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, Insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to themselves & their Posterity—Do In the Name & behalf of the People of the State of New—Hampshire assent to & ratify the said Constitution for the United States of America. And as it is the Opinion of this Convention that certain amendments & alterations in the said Constitution would remove the fears & quiet the apprehensions of many of the good People of this State & more Effectually guard against an undue Administration of the Federal Government— The Convention do therefore recommend that the following alterations & provisions be introduced into the said Constitution.—

First, That it be Explicitly declared that all Powers not expressly & particularly Delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are reserved to the several States to be, by them Exercised.—

Secondly, That there shall be one Representative to every Thirty thousand Persons according to the Census mentioned in the Constitution, until the whole number of Representatives amount to Two hundred.—

Thirdly, That Congress do not Exercise the Powers vested in them, by the fourth Section of the first Article, but in Cases when a State shall neglect or refuse to make the Regulations therein mentioned, or shall make regulations Subversive of the rights of the People to a free and equal Representation in Congress. Nor shall Congress in any Case make regulations contrary to a free and equal Representation.—

Fourthly, That Congress do not lay direct Taxes but when the money arising from Impost, Excise and their other resources are insufficient for the Public Exigencies; nor then, untill Congress shall have first made a Requisition upon the States, to Assess, Levy, & pay their respective proportions, of such requisitions agreeably to the Census fixed in the said Constitution in such way & manner as the Legislature of the State shall think best and in such Case if any State shall neglect, then Congress may Assess & Levy such States proportion together with the Interest thereon at the rate of six per Cent per Annum from the Time of payment prescribed in such requisition—

Fifthly. That Congress shall erect no Company of Merchants with exclusive advantages of Commerce.—

Sixthly, That no Person shall be Tried for any Crime by which he may incur an Infamous Punishment, or loss of Life, until he first be indicted by a Grand Jury except in such Cases as may arise in the Government and regulation of the Land & Naval Forces.—

Seventhly, All Common Law Cases between Citizens of different States shall be commenced in the Common Law—Courts of the respective States & no appeal shall be allowed to the Federal Court in such Cases unless the sum or value of the thing in Controversy amount to three Thousand Dollars.—

Eighthly, In Civil Actions between Citizens of different States every Issue of Fact arising in Actions at Common Law shall be Tried by Jury, if the Parties, or either of them request it—

Ninthly, Congress shall at no Time consent that any Person holding an Office of Trust or profit under the United States shall accept any Title of Nobility or any other Title or Office from any King, Prince, or Foreign State.—

Tenth, That no standing Army shall be Kept up in time of Peace unless with the consent of three fourths of the Members of each branch of Congress, nor shall Soldiers in Time of Peace be quartered upon private Houses without the consent—of the Owners.—

Eleventh, Congress shall make no Laws touching Religion, or to infringe the rights of Conscience—

Twelfth, Congress shall never disarm any Citizen unless such as are or have been in Actual Rebellion.—

And the Convention Do. In the Name & behalf of the People of this State enjoin it upon their Representatives in Congress, at all Times untill the alterations and provisions aforesaid have been Considered agreeably to the fifth Article of the said Constitution to exert all their Influence & use all reasonable & Legal methods to obtain a ratification of the said alterations & Provisions, in such manner as is provided in the said article—And That the United States in Congress Assembled may have due notice of the assent & Ratification of the said Constitution by this Convention.—It is resolved that the Assent & Ratification aforesaid be engrossed on Parchment, together with the Recommendation & injunction aforesaid & with this Resolution—And that John Sullivan Esquire President of Convention, & John Langdon Esquire President of the State Transmit the same Countersigned by the Secretary of Convention & the Secretary of the State under their hands & Seals to the United States in Congress Assembled.

[Reference:  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/new-hampshire-ratifies-57-47-with-12-proposed-amendments/ ]

 

VI.  NORTH CAROLINA RATIFICATION (November 21, 1789), with 20 Bill of Rights:

Resolved, That a Declaration of Rights, asserting and securing from encroachment the great Principles of civil and religious Liberty, and the unalienable Rights of the People, together with Amendments to the most ambiguous and exceptional Parts of the said Constitution of Government, ought to be laid before Congress, and the Convention of the States that shall or may be called for the Purpose of Amending the said Constitution, for their consideration, previous to the Ratification of the Constitution aforesaid, on the part of the State of North Carolina.

Declaration of Rights:

1st. That there are certain natural rights of which men, when they form a social compact, cannot deprive or divest their posterity, among which are the enjoyment of life, and liberty, with the means of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

2d. That all power is naturally vested in, and consequently derived from the people; that magistrates therefore are their trustees, and agents, and at all times amenable to them.

3d. That Government ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the people; and that the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive to the good and happiness of mankind.

4th That no man or set of men are entitled to exclusive or separate public emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services; which not being descendible, neither ought the offices of magistrate, legislator or judge, or any other public office to be hereditary.

5th. That the legislative, executive and judiciary powers of government should be separate and distinct, and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression by feeling and participating the public burthens, they should at fixed periods be reduced to a private station, return into the mass of the people; and the vacancies be supplied by certain and regular elections; in which all or any part of the former members to be eligible or ineligible, as the rules of the Constitution of Government, and the laws shall direct.

6th. That elections of Representatives in the legislature ought to be free and frequent, and all men having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to the community, ought to have the right of suffrage: and no aid, charge, tax or fee can be set, rated, or levied upon the people without their own consent, or that of their representatives, so elected, nor can they be bound by any law, to which they have not in like manner assented for the public good.

7th. That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws by any authority without the consent of the representatives, of the people in the Legislature, is injurious to their rights, and ought not to be exercised.

8th. That in all capital and criminal prosecutions, a man hath a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence and be allowed counsel in his favor, and to a fair and speedy trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty (except in the government of the land and naval forces) nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself.

9th That no freeman ought to be taken, imprisoned, or disseized of his freehold, liberties, privileges or franchises, or outlawed or exiled, or in any manner destroyed or deprived of his life, liberty, or property but by the law of the land.

10th. That every freeman restrained of his liberty is entitled to a remedy to inquire into the lawfulness thereof, and to remove the same, if unlawful, and that such remedy ought not to be denied nor delayed.

11th. That in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the ancient trial by jury is one of the greatest securities to the rights of the people, and ought to remain sacred and inviolable.

12th. That every freeman ought to find a certain remedy by recourse to the laws for all injuries and wrongs he may receive in his person, property, or character. He ought to obtain right and justice freely without sale, completely and without denial, promptly and without delay, and that all establishments, or regulations contravening these rights, are oppressive and unjust.

13th. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted

14th. That every freeman has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches, and seizures of his person, his papers, and property: all warrants therefore to search suspected places, or seize any freeman, his papers or property, without information upon oath (or affirmation of a person religiously scrupulous of taking an oath) of legal and sufficient cause, are grievous and oppressive, and all general warrants to search suspected places, or to apprehend any suspected person without specially naming or describing the place or person, are dangerous and ought not to be granted.

15th. That the people have a right peaceably to assemble together to consult for the common good, or to instruct their representatives; and that every freeman has a right to petition or apply to the Legislature for redress of grievances.

16th. That the people have a right to freedom of speech, and of writing and publishing their sentiments; that the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of Liberty, and ought not to be violated.

17th. That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free state. That standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to Liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by the civil power.

18th. That no soldier in time of peace ought to be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner, and in time of war in such manner only as the Laws direct

19th. That any person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms ought to be exempted upon payment of an equivalent to employ another to bear arms in his stead.

20th. That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men have an equal, natural and unalienable right to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience, and that no particular religious sect or society ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others.

Amendments to the Constitution:  (21 amendments were proposed, but I only included the first here):

  1. THAT each state in the union shall, respectively, retain every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this constitution delegated to the Congress of the United States, or to the departments of the Federal Government.

[Reference:  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/tansill/ratification-northcarolina/ ]

 

VII.  RHODE ISLAND RATIFICATION (November 21, 1789), with 18 Bill of Rights:

We the Delegates of the People of the State of Rhode-Island, and Providence Plantations, duly elected and met in Convention, having maturely considered the Constitution for the United States of America, agreed to on the seventeenth day of September, in the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven, by the Convention then assembled at Philadelphia, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (a Copy whereof precedes these presents) and having also seriously and deliberately considered the present situation of this State, do declare and make known

1st That there are certain natural rights, of which men when they form a social compact, cannot deprive or divest their posterity, among which are the enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the means of acquiring, possessing and protecting Property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

2d That all power is naturally vested in, and consequently derived from the People; that magistrates therefore are their trustees and agents, and at all times amenable to them.

3d That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness [Note: This is a “RESUMPTION CLAUSE.”  New York and Virginia also included such a clause/condition in their ratifications], :-That the rights of the States respectively, to nominate and appoint all State Officers, and every other power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by the said constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States or to the departments of government thereof, remain to the people of the several states, or their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same; and that those clauses in the said constitution which declare that Congress shall not have or exercise certain powers, do not imply, that Congress is entitled to any powers not given by the said constitution, but such clauses are to be construed as exceptions to certain specified powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution.

4th That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, and not by force or violence, and therefore all men, have an equal, natural and unalienable right to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, and that no particular religious sect or society ought to be favored, or established by law in preference to others.

5th That the legislative, executive and judiciary powers of government, should be separate and distinct, and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression, by feeling and participating the public burthens, they should at fixed periods be reduced to a private station, return into the mass of the people, and the vacancies be supplied by certain and regular elections, in which all, or any part of the former members, to be eligible or ineligible, as the rules of the constitution of government and the laws shall direct.

6th That elections of representatives in legislature ought to be free and frequent, and all men having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to the community ought to have the right of suffrage, and no aid, charge tax or fee can be set, rated or levied upon the people, without their own consent or that of their representatives so elected, nor can they be bound by any law, to which they have not in like manner assented for the public good.

7th That all power of suspending laws or the execution of laws, by any authority without the consent of the representatives of the people in the legislature, is injurious to their rights, and ought not to be exercised.

8th That in all capital and criminal prosecutions, a man hath a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence and be allowed counsel in his favor, and to a fair and speedy trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty; (except in the government of the land and naval forces) nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself.

9th That no freeman ought to be taken, imprisoned or disseised of his freehold, liberties, privileges, or franchises, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner destroyed or deprived of his life, liberty or property but by the trial by jury, or by the law of the land.

10th That every freeman restrained of his liberty, is intitled to a remedy, to enquire into the lawfulness thereof, and to remove the same if unlawful, and that such remedy ought not to be denied or delayed.

11th That in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man the antient trial by jury, as hath been exercised by us and our ancestors, from the time whereof the memory of man is not to the contrary, is one of the greatest securities to the rights of the people, and ought to remain sacred and inviolate.

12th That every freeman ought to obtain right and justice, freely and without sale, completely and without denial, promptly and without delay, and that a establishments or regulations contravening these rights, are oppressive and unjust.

13th That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishments inflicted.

14th That every person has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches and seizures of his person, his papers or his property, and therefore that all warrants to search suspected places or seize any person, his papers or his property, without information upon oath, or affirmation, of sufficient cause, are grievous and oppressive, and that all general warrants (or such in which the place or person suspected, are not particularly designated,) are dangerous, and ought not to be granted.

15th That the people have a right peaceably to assemble together, to consult for their common good, or to instruct their representatives; and that every person has a right to petition or apply to the legislature for redress of grievances.

16th That the people have a right to freedom of speech and of writing, and publishing their sentiments, that freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and ought not to be violated.

17th That the people have a right to keep and bear arms, that a well-regulated militia, including the body of the people capable of bearing arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free state; that the militia shall not be subject to martial law except in time of war, rebellion or insurrection; that standing armies in time of peace, axe dangerous to liberty, and ought not to be kept up, except in cases of necessity; and that at all times the military should be under strict subordination to the civil power; that in time of peace no soldier ought to be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, and in time of war, only by the civil magistrate, in such manner as the law directs.

18th That any person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, ought to be exempted, upon payment of an equivalent, to employ another to bear arms in his stead.

Under these impressions, and declaring, that the rights aforesaid cannot be abridged or violated, and that the explanations aforesaid, are consistent with the said constitution, and in confidence that the amendments hereafter mentioned, will receive early and mature consideration, and conformably to the fifth article of said constitution, speedily become a part thereof; We the said delegates, in the name, and in the behalf of the People, of the State of Rhode-Island and Providence-Plantations, do by these Presents, assent to, and ratify the said Constitution. In full confidence nevertheless, that until the amendments hereafter proposed and undermentioned shall be agreed to and ratified pursuant to the aforesaid fifth article, the militia of this State will not be continued in service out of this State for a longer term than six weeks, without the consent of the legislature thereof; That the Congress will not make or alter any regulation in this State, respecting the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators or representatives, unless the legislature of this state shall neglect, or refuse to make laws or regulations for the purpose, or from any circumstance be incapable of making the same; and that n those cases, such power will only be exercised, until the legislature of this State shall make provision in the Premises, that the Congress will not lay direct taxes within this State, but when the monies arising from the Impost, Tonnage and Excise shall be insufficient for the public exigencies, nor until the Congress shall be have first made a requisition upon this State to assess, levy and pay the amount of such requisition, made agreeable to the census fixed in the said constitution, in such way and manner, as the legislature of this State shall judge best, and that the Congress will not lay any capitation or poll tax.

[Reference:  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/tansill/ratification-rhodeisland/ ]

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The English Roots of American Liberty

MAGNA CARTA - King John signing

by DIane Rufino, January 20, 2018

From the Declaration and Resolves (petition to King Charles listing the colonies’ grievances against the King and Parliament), the Declaration of Independence, to the Bill of Rights / Declaration of Rights adopted by the individual states, to the US Constitution, and to the US Bill of Rights, the Founding Fathers looked to English history for the words and templates to navigate the colonies towards independence and then into a republic. They reflected on the abuses of the Kings and the compacts demanded by the people to check those abuses, as well as the Enlightenment era philosophy on government in building a lasting republic. It is said that our Founding Fathers were wise and extremely well-read, but moreso, they were keenly aware of England’s history, which was, of course, also the history of the American colonies.

The colonists certainly embraced the liberty they found in the American colonies and the chance they had to self-govern as they saw fit. They worshipped according to their conscience, they engaged in trade freely, and they established their own colonial governments. But then they began to see that new-found liberty in jeopardy. The historic abuses of the English monarchy on its subjects now turned to the colonies. The colonists were taxed without their representation in Parliament (a right listed in the Magna Carta and English Bill of Rights of 1689), their trade interfered with (Tea Act), their colonial assemblies suspended (violation of their colonial charters), they had standing armies kept among them (in violation of the English Bill of Rights), they were forced to quarter troops (in violation of the Petition of Right of 1628 and English Bill of Rights), and their firearms and ammunition were confiscated (in violation of the English Bill of Rights). And when they protested and remonstrated these violations of their rights as English subjects, as those of centuries earlier had done, King Charles III ignored and mocked them. To the King, the colonists were crude, almost laughable in their simpler ways. He accused them of acting like petulant children and essentially being bothersome. He did not answer their written complaints, nor was swayed when they pleaded to him, “as loyal subjects,” to please intervene on their behalf to Parliament (for such things as the Intolerable Acts). By 1774, the King had had enough of them and accused them of being in active rebellion against Great Britain. All the colonists wanted was to have their rights respected. [Watch the DVD Set “Liberty – The American Revolution” (PBS) to feel the frustration the colonists felt in the years leading up to the American Revolution].

The question was this: How would the colonists respond?

Well, we know how they responded. Looking at the totality of the situation (“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States…”), the colonists, assembled in the Second Continental Congress, felt it had no other meaningful course but to seek its independence. In asserting what they believed was their natural right of self-determination and right of self-governance, they took a cue from their English roots (the Grand Remonstrance of 1640) and set forth a list of grievances against the King. In the Declaration of Independence, they listed 27 grievances – abuses of their rights – which, as the colonies declared, justified their separation from Great Britain.

When the fighting began the colonies weren’t seeking their independence; they were merely rebelling against tyranny. But North Carolina and then Virginia, and then others, began to call for independence, and on July 2, 1776, the resolution declaring independence was adopted and on July 4, Jefferson’s formal Declaration was issued – “to a candid world. The rebellion turned into a war for independence. Luckily, trust in George Washington paid off and friendship with France paid off as well. After our victory at Saratoga, France sent troops and its naval forces. British General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, VA on October 19, 1781 and on September 3, 1783, representatives of King George III of Great Britain and representatives of the United States of America signed the Treaty of Paris to officially end the American Revolutionary War. Article I of the Treaty read: “His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states…” The colonies were free.

But then next question was perhaps more important: How would they secure the liberty and individual rights they had just fought for? What kind of government system would best suit that goal?

Luckily our Founding Fathers were students of history and philosophy. They studied the Greek and Roman republics and knew what made them great and what led to their demise. They knew the history of England – a monarchy – and knew that although the great charters of liberty were written by the English to limit the conduct of the King and then to include Parliament, they also knew that those protections often went unnoticed. There were several attempts in England’s history to limit (forever) the rights of kings to place themselves above the law, but in some cases, the king took the “Divine Right of Kings” doctrine far too seriously. The Divine Right of Kings was the political/ religious doctrine in England that asserted that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from the will of God. Indeed, the history of England was a series of repeated events – abuses of the King over his subjects followed by a charter or petition demanding that their rights be acknowledged and that the King recognize limits to his power, followed by periods where the King or Kings ignored the charter/petition and subjects were again abused, followed by another petition, etc. For example, King John (1199-1216) signed the Magna Carta in 1215 after his barons took up arms against him, but almost immediately, he broke those promises. In 1928, Parliament presented King Charles I with the Petition of Right, complaining of a series of breaches of law and the Great Charter (Magna Carta) he had committed. The violations were of four general types – unfair and illegal taxation, as well as imposing taxes without the action of Parliament, many due process violations, including imprisonment without cause, quartering of soldiers on subjects, and imposing martial law in peacetime. The remainder of his reign would be marked with such extreme abuses that he would eventually be brought to trial and executed. James II, his son, would be another abusive king. With James II, the people (and Parliament) had had finally enough. He was removed by a bloodless revolution and the new King and Queen, William and Mary (Mary being James II’s daughter) signed the English Bill of Rights in 1689. Drafted by Parliament, the Bill of Rights officially set limits to the right of kings to put themselves above the law. The statute which offered the throne to William and Mary legally conditioned their rule on signing and respecting it. And subsequent kings would thus be limited as well.

All of our Founding Fathers knew that history very well. Again, England’s history was the history of the American colonies. But it was, after all, a monarchy. And a monarchy, as shown, was incapable of truly securing the inalienable rights of the individual. A democratic form of government would work either. True democracy is mob rule. It is always a rule by the majority. It could easily be tyranny by the majority.

In drafting the Constitution, which created our system of government here in the United States, our founders decided the best form of government would be a republic. Their study of history taught them that. As James Madison, author of the Constitution, wrote in Federalist No. 10: “Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths … A republic, by which I mean a government in which a scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”

Article IV Section 4, of the Constitution: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of government … ”

At the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, the task of the delegates was to design the new republic as wisely as possible. like what Dr. Joe Wolverton II wrote in a 2004 article for The New American: “They believed they could find the key to inoculating America against the diseases that infected and destroyed past societies. Indeed, it has been said that the Founders were coroners examining the lifeless bodies of the republics and democracies of the past, in order to avoid succumbing to the maladies that shortened their lives.”

The Constitution was signed by the delegates on September 17, 1787 and then it was sent to each state to be ratified or rejected. Several of the delegates were unhappy with the final draft because it did not include a Bill of Rights and some, including the powerful George Mason from Virginia, promised to try to defeat its ratification in the state conventions. (Patrick Henry planned to help Mason do so). Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, believed strongly that a Bill of Rights needed to be added, but Madison, author of the Constitution, did not. Jefferson wrote: “A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.” States like Virginia and North Carolina and Rhode Island would not ratify unless a Bill of Rights was added, and New York was up in the air. Although it may have been likely that 9 states (as required by Article VII) would have ratified so that the Constitution would have done into effect, the states couldn’t imagine a union without the large powerful states of VA, NY, and NC. And so a deal was made with Madison at the VA Ratifying Convention. He would submit a Bill of Rights as amendments to the Constitution in the first session of the first US Congress. Madison was an honorable man. The rest is history.

Before the deal was made, however, Patrick Henry got up before the Convention to make the case that a Bill of Rights was necessary to secure the blessings of liberty from a government that (as history has always shown) will eventually become too powerful. He spoke these words: “Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessing — give us that precious jewel, and you may take everything else!….. I say, the time has been when every pulse of my heart beat for American liberty, and which, I believe, had a counterpart in the breast of every true American.”

Madison introduced his proposed amendments to the Constitution (a Bill of Rights) to Congress on June 8, 1789, and after a committee put them in final form and Congress adopted them, they were sent to the states on September 25 for ratification. Out of the twelve proposed amendments, the states ratified ten. There are approximately 26 individual rights identified in the Bill of Rights (excluding the unenumerated possibilities in the Ninth Amendment). Of those 26 individual rights, 9 can be traced back to Magna Carta, 7 can be traced to the English Petition of Rights of 1628, and 6 can be traced to the English Bill of Rights of 1689.

I used to think our Founders were divinely inspired to write some of the documents that they wrote….. the words, the themes, the ballsy language. But when you go back and study England’s illustrious history and you read the great charters and documents of liberty – the 1100 Charter of Liberties, the Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Rights (1628), the Grand Remonstrance (1641), and the English Bill of Rights of 1689 – you realize that our Founders had all the templates they needed. In many cases, they followed in the very footsteps of their forefathers – English subjects – who petitioned every hundred years or more for their rights and for the King to limit his jurisdiction over their lives. For example, the Grand Remonstrance listed a series of grievances against Charles I, from the beginning of his reign, explaining why he needed to answer for his actions. In drafting the Declarations & Resolves of Oct. 14, 1774 (series of petitions and resolutions to King Charles I and Parliament in response to the Intolerable Acts), the First Continental Congress adopted the same petition formats that the English used to their King to petition for the rights that were being violated. In drafting the formal Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson used the same format in order to condemn King Charles III and to make the case to a candid world why the people of the American colonies were seeking their political and legal separation from Great Britain. And so history lessons like this are so important because they serve to remind us that our system rests on a very distinguished history of standing up for liberty against tyranny and that the principles embedded in our documents are ones designed to withstand the abuses of those in power, in any branch. And that is why it is so important that those principles should not be taken for granted, maligned just because our fore-fathers were products of another era, or happened to own slaves or represented social norms of the day or happened to sneeze the wrong way, or “legislated” away from the bench by activist judges. Charles I was a miserable, ambitious King who, perhaps more than any other King of England, embraced the notion of the Divine Right of Kings and hid behind the artificial status it created. He quarreled with Parliament (the people’s body established by the Magna Carta to give them representation when it came to taxation) over taxes. He wanted more and more to finance his endless wars. When Parliament wouldn’t give him the funds he demanded, he merely dissolved the body. He did so three times from 1625-1629. When he dissolved Parliament in 1629, he resolved to rule alone and to get the money he needed. And so he raised revenue through non-Parliamentary means – including Ship Money (taxing those who lived along the coast). Most of these things helped to lead to his demise, which followed after he waged a civil war on Parliament itself, which he lost. Charles was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason by (a rump) Parliament in January 1649. He was beheaded. I point to Charles I because he was so abusive and dismissive of the rights of the people that the damage he did signaled the end of British system. After he was executed, Oliver Cromwell served as Lord Protector over England until his death in 1658. The monarchy was restored two years later, at which time, Charles II took the throne. He ruled until 1685 and when he died, his brother James II took the throne. He was deposed less than 3 years later. William and Mary were offered the throne and England got an official Bill of Rights at their coronation.

But one good thing came out of Charles’ reign. He cracked down quite heavily on the Puritans in England, and as a result, they emigrated (ultimately) to New England to found colonies based on religious liberty and eventually to establish the commonwealth of Massachusetts. The history of England is also one of religious tyranny and persecution, and no doubt provided the passion that certain Founders, such as Thomas Jefferson, had to secure religious freedom in the colonies.

England’s history is vital to our education because in her 600-year-or-so history, her people have stood up for their rights – rights they believed were fundamental and essential to their humanity and dignity – and in the end, their petitions, once merely requesting for the recognition of certain rights, became a Bill of Rights (1689), officially recognizing essential rights belonging to the individual that government was obligated to respect. While England does not have an official Constitution, per se, it considers a group of documents (including the English Bill of Rights) as being its “constitution” or governing document. But those documents, which represented the plight of the English for their rights to be free and to be free from government made it to the minds of our American Founders who then incorporated it into our nation’s founding documents. Our founding documents are superior to England’s because in this country, there is an “official” Constitution and an “official” Bill of Rights and both are predicated on something the English system is not – that government power originates from the individual. Those documents memorialize not only the formal recognition of inalienable individual rights, but they set important limits and boundaries on government. If you don’t think the English system of protest and petition didn’t work and if you don’t think it SHOULD be the model we embrace here – consider this: Each time the English people petitioned for their rights, those rights were enlarged, as mentioned above. Also consider this: The ability to have and bear arms originated as a “duty” in England, under the Militia laws. But after many years of the Crown confiscating guns and leaving England’s subjects undefended and vulnerable in the face of despotic Kings (willing to arrest and imprison them merely for political reasons or belonging to the wrong religion), that duty became a “right” in the English Bill of Rights. We have our Right to Have and Bear Arms (Second Amendment) because of the will and determination of the English people.

References:

“English and Colonial Roots of the US Bill of Rights – http://teachingamericanhistory.org/bor/roots-chart/

Virginia Ratifying Convention, Thursday, June 5, 1788 – http://www.constitution.org/rc/rat_va_04.htm

Federalist No. 6 (Alexander Hamilton), Avalon Project (Yale Law School) – http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed06.asp

“Liberty – The American Revolution” (3 disc, DVD set), PBS – https://shop.pbs.org/

The Petition of Right of 1628 – http://www.constitution.org/eng/petright.htm

The Grand Remonstrance of 1640 – http://www.constitution.org/eng/conpur043.htm

The English Bill of Rights of 1689 – http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/england.asp

Dr. Joe Wolverton II, “The Founding Fathers & the Classics,” The New American, September 20, 2004. Referenced at: https://21stcenturycicero.wordpress.com/tyrrany/the-founding-fathers-the-classics/

Making Sense of the Meaning and Intent of the Second Amendment: It Isn’t Hard, Folks!

2nd amendment - there are no rights if you can't defend them

by Diane Rufino, May 24, 2017

“No free man shall be debarred (denied) the use of arms.” –  as proposed by Thomas Jefferson for Virginia’s Bill of Rights, 1776

The Federal Farmer (anti-Federalist author) in 1788: “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught how to use them.”

Patrick Henry to the Virginia Convention to Ratify the US Constitution, in June 1788: “The great object is that every man be armed.”

At the same time it ratified the US Constitution in 1788, the New Hampshire Ratifying Convention proposed this amendment for the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall never disarm any citizen, unless such as are or have been in actual rebellion.”

The Federal Gazette, dated June 18, 1789, described James Madison’s proposal for a Bill of Rights: “The people are confirmed in their right to keep and bear their private arms.”

“We have found no historical evidence that the Second Amendment applies only to members of a select militia while on active duty. All the evidence indicates that the amendment, like other parts of the Bill of Rights, applies to and protects individual Americans.”   —  The Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit (2001)

INTRODUCTION –

The Second 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.”

For most of our nation’s history, the Supreme Court has essentially managed to avoid ruling on the meaning and intent of the Second Amendment and that worked out just fine. And that’s probably because for about 150 years, it apparently was universally understood that the amendment protected an individual right to arms rather than a right only when organized in a militia. It wasn’t until the 20th century that a legal debate began in earnest over the characterization of the right recognized in the Second Amendment.

Is the right to arms an individual right or a collective right?  Indeed, in the 20th century, federal courts have seemed confused on this question. Some embrace the historical model, which holds that the amendment recognizes the right of people, as individuals, to bear arms.  And others embrace the more radical model, the “collective rights” model, which holds that individuals have the right to arms but only when they are members of a militia.

The “collective rights” model was embraced in 1939 in a case called United States v. Miller.  The case arose after two men, Jack Miller and Frank Layton, were arrested for transporting a double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun across state lines and in interstate commerce. They were charged with violating the National Firearms Act (“NFA”).  Miller and Layton argued that the NFA violated their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms and therefore it was unconstitutional as it applied to them. The federal district court agreed and dismissed the case. The government appealed and it went to the Supreme Court. The issue at the heart of the case was whether the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms. The Supreme Court concluded that it does not. It reasoned that because the possession of a sawed-off double barrel shotgun does not have a reasonable relationship to the functioning or efficiency of a well-regulated militia, the Second Amendment does not protect the possession of such an instrument.

Although the right to arms became an increasingly heated topic as the 20th century went on, the Supreme Court refused to hear cases to re-address the amendment.  And so, the Miller decision defined the position of the federal judiciary from 1939 for almost 70 years.  The Second Amendment did not recognize an individual’s right to have and bear arms for self-defense – only the defense of a State. But then in 2008 and then in 2010, the Supreme Court, with the late great Antonin Scalia on the bench, agreed to hear two cases, each addressing the same issue and each directly asking the Court to re-address the meaning and intent of the Second Amendment.  The 2008 case, District of Columbia v. Heller, addressed a federal gun control law, and the 2009 case, McDonald v. Chicago, addressed a state gun control law. [The first was a direct challenge to the Second Amendment and the second was a challenge under the incorporation clause of the Fourteenth Amendment].

In Heller, at issue was a gun ban in the District of Columbia (hence, it was a federal gun law) which regulated firearms in several ways: (1)  It made it illegal to carry an unregistered firearm; (2) It prohibited the registration of handguns; (3)  It required owners of lawfully-registered firearms to keep them unloaded and disassembled, even in the home, or bound by a trigger lock or other similar device unless the firearms were located in a place of business or being used for legal recreational activities.  Dick Anthony Heller was a D.C. special police officer who was authorized to carry a handgun while on duty. He applied for a one-year license for a handgun he wished to keep at home, but his application was denied, and so he brought suit to challenge the gun ban as violative of the Second Amendment.

The Supreme Court agreed with Officer Heller (5-4 majority, of course). It held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.  Therefore, the ban on registering handguns and the requirement to keep guns in the home disassembled or nonfunctional with a trigger lock mechanism was inconsistent with the intent of the Second Amendment. Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the opinion.  The Court held that the first clause of the Second Amendment that references a “militia” is a prefatory clause that does not limit the operative clause of the Amendment. Additionally, the term “militia” should not be confined to those serving in the military, because at the time the term referred to all able-bodied men who were capable of being called to such service. To read the Amendment as limiting the right to bear arms only to those in a governed military force would be to create exactly the type of state-sponsored force against which the Amendment was meant to protect people. Because the text of the Amendment should be read in the manner that gives greatest effect to the plain meaning it would have had at the time it was written, the operative clause should be read to “guarantee an individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” This reading is also in line with legal writing of the time and subsequent scholarship. Therefore, banning handguns, an entire class of arms that is commonly used for protection purposes, and prohibiting firearms from being kept functional in the home, the area traditionally in need of protection, violates the Second Amendment.

The piece of legislation addressed in the McDonald case was Chicago’s gun registration law, which: (1) Prohibited the registration of handguns, thus effecting a broad handgun ban; (2) Requires that guns be registered prior to their acquisition by Chicago residents; (3) Mandated that guns be re-registered annually, with another payment of the fee; and (4) Rendered any gun permanently non-registrable if its registration lapses. 76-year-old Chicago resident Otis McDonald, a retired maintenance engineer, had lived in the Morgan Park neighborhood since buying a house there in 1971. He complained about the decline of his neighborhood, describing it as being taken over by gangs and drug dealers. His home and garage had been broken into five times. An experienced hunter, McDonald legally owned shotguns, but believed them too uncontrollable in the event of a robbery, and so he wanted to purchase a handgun for personal home defense. Due to Chicago’s requirement that all firearms in the city be registered, yet refusing all handgun registrations after 1982 when a city-wide handgun ban was passed, he was unable to legally own a handgun. So, he and some of his neighbors challenged the Chicago gun registration law as violative of the Second Amendment, as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. He didn’t believe that the Second Amendment was meant to leave him as a sitting duck – a potential victim – in his crime-ridden neighborhood.

The Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment makes the Second Amendment’ right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense applicable to the states. With Justice Samuel A. Alito writing for the majority, the Court reasoned that rights that are “fundamental to the Nation’s scheme of ordered liberty” or that are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” are appropriately applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court recognized in Heller that the right to self-defense was one such “fundamental” and “deeply rooted” right, and so, the Second Amendment’s protections and prohibitions apply to the States.

As you read the body of this article, consider what liberal justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor argued in their dissent. They wrote that there is nothing in the Second Amendment’s “text, history, or underlying rationale” that characterizes it as a “fundamental right” warranting incorporation through the Fourteenth Amendment.  Keep that in mind.

Heller and McDonald were decided after a deep look into the historical roots of the Second Amendment, something that the Court should have done in the Miller case. The current understanding is that the Second Amendment recognizes and protects an individual’s right to arms for self-defense and equally recognizes the right to have and bear arms for the purpose of a state militia.

The opinion makes sense.  According to the Declaration of Independence, and natural law, we have the right to life and liberty. These rights are inherent with our humanity. They are inalienable. We never surrender them. Therefore, by extension (by corollary), we must have the right to defend them. In other words, the right to life, and liberty (and Property too) also implies the right to defend them. Otherwise, the rights are meaningless; there are merely parchment pronunciations.

The desire to live and survive is innate; we reflexively act to protect our lives and to thrive. And when we can’t, we feel violated. Just ask anyone who has been the victim of a violent crime, of a robbery, an assault, a break-in.  Ask someone who has the experience of a stranger breaking into their house in the middle of the night. I had that experience. And I have a gun today because I never want to feel helpless and vulnerable and the victim of predation again.

From a simple reading of the Bill of Rights, one notices that the First Amendment and the other amendments as well, address individual rights. If the Bill of Rights identifies individual rights – as did the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights – shouldn’t one sense pressure to view the Second Amendment similarly?

Historically, the “individual right” view is the best proven one, and so the Supreme Court rightly decided the Heller and McDonald cases.  But what is that history that so grounds our Second Amendment and so secures its meaning as an individual right?

The DVD “In Search of the Second Amendment” explains this history very clearly.

THE HISTORY of the SECOND AMENDMENT

[This section is lifted, in part, from the DVD “In Search of the Second Amendment (A Documentary),” produced and directed by David T. Hardy (2006)]

The 1930’s through the 1970’s was a time period when Americans were embracing their gun rights, but lawyers weren’t paying much attention to the Second Amendment – one way or another (that is, on either side of its interpretation).  There wasn’t much thought given to it. But as the years went on, there was growing evidence for the “individual right” view. Law reviews were publishing articles on the topic and books on the Constitution were taking notice of this meaning. Momentum was slowly building for a show-down in the Supreme Court to address this building consensus.

One of the leading Constitutional Law treatises of the later 20th century, American Constitutional Law, was written by Laurence Tribe, professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School. His first edition was written in 1978. Attorney Leonard Levy wrote a subsequent book, Essays on the Making of the Constitution, in which he attacked Tribe’s textbook for failing to acknowledge the growing the evidence of the “individual right” view of the right to have a bear arms. Tribe immediately published a second edition accepting this evidence.

Why this growing trend?  And what does it mean for the Miller decision?  Did the Court at the time not have the evidence?  Before coming to the conclusion that the Second Amendment conferred only a collective right (although it appears they only alluded to this viewpoint without coming right out with a bright line rule of construction), didn’t they bother to go back and research the amendment’s history?

What got the ball rolling towards the “individual right” point of view?  One article appears to be responsible. The recent boom in Second Amendment legal scholarship that has led to most constitutional scholars to accept the view that the amendment protects an individual’s right to have and bear arms began with an article by Don Kates, published in the Michigan Law Review. That article was titled “Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment.’ [http://www.constitution.org/2ll/2ndschol/57mich.pdf].

Top legal scholars, many of which are liberal, such as Sandy Levinson (of the University of Texas, writing in the Yale Law Journal), Randy Barnett (Boston University School of Law), Bill Van Alstyne (Duke University), and Eugene (Professor at the UCLA School of Law) have made it clear that their research has led them to conclude that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to have arms.

The history behind the Second Amendment goes back well before the colonies were even settled. It goes back to the very history of the fore-fathers and founders of our country. It goes back to the history of England, the country that gave us so much of our common law, gave us our Bill of Rights, and gave us much of the foundation upon which we built our Declaration, our Constitution, and our system of government.

In medieval England, there was no royal army. There wasn’t enough money or control to have such a formal army. Instead, the King would have to count on his subjects to fight for him – to fight for the kingdom. And so, by law, the King established a citizen militia.  By law – the Militia laws – every male subject, beginning at a certain age, was required to own guns, have ammunition, be trained in their use, and show up for regular training sessions. Citizens could be called up at any time by the King to form the militia and so they had to always be in a state of readiness.  Henry VIII lowered the age of the males required to be trained to use guns. Under his rule, fathers were required to train their sons from age 7 and older in the use of firearms. “Bring them up in shooting!”

In 1688, a medieval “duty” to have and bear arms became an “indubitable right.”  How did this happen?   Dr. Joyce Malcolm, Patrick Henry Professor of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University School of Law and fellow of the Royal Historical Society, is an expert on this topic. She has been called “the leading historian on the history of English gun rights and English gun control.” Malcolm explains that gun ownership transformed into a “right” during the tumultuous 17th century in England, and for understandable reasons. The transformation arose out of a conflict between King Charles I and Parliament. Eventually, in 1642, civil war broke out and members of Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, brought charges against Charles. He was captured, tried for treason, and beheaded. His sons, the future King Charles II and King James II had fled to France at the time.

After Cromwell died and his son took over, rather than stability in England, there was mass chaos. The people, out of sheer desperation, asked Charles II to come back to England, assert his right to the throne, and rule, which he did.  But what did Charles come home to?  He returned to a country that turned on his father; a country that beheaded him. He also returned to a country that was very well-armed. Almost immediately, he sought to disarm the subjects and control the bearing of arms. He instituted serious gun control measures, both on individuals and on manufacturers. Gun manufacturers had to report to the King how many guns they manufactured each week and who purchased them. There were controls on the importing of guns, licenses were required for subjects who needed to move weapons around the countryside, and subjects had to report if they were traveling with a firearm. In the year 1660, King Charles II issued a series of orders to disarm those citizens that he deemed were – or would be – political opponents. One particular act that Parliament passed, in 1662, was especially repugnant. It was the Militia Act of 1662 and it gave militia officers the power to disarm anyone they believed was likely to be an opponent of the Crown.  And at first, the Act was actively enforced.  In 1671, Parliament passed the Game Act, which proved to be the greatest control over ownership of firearms that England ever had. The Game Act listed a whole host of weapons that were prohibited for hunting, and at the head of that list was guns !!

Charles II died and having produced no heirs, he was succeeded by his brother James. King James II would use the Game Act to try to disarm all those subjects who he deemed were not well-enough off. In other words, he tried to limit gun ownership to only those of a certain class of subjects. He sent out mass orders to disarm the citizenry.  According to the record, Dr. Malcolm explains, the orders were apparently not carried out.  But the actions of the King to disarm his subjects certainly arose concern and fear among the people of England.

And so, finally in 1688, the English people had had enough. They, together with a union of Parliamentarians, invited William and Mary, of Orange to take over the throne and depose King James II. Mary was the daughter of the king. The people promised they would oust James and offer no resistance to William and Mary if they agreed to sign a Bill of Rights acknowledging the rights of the people and promised to be held to that document. William and Mary agreed. They sailed from Orange and were met with the support of the citizenry, in what would be known as the “Bloodless Revolution” (or Glorious Revolution). James was forced to flee.  A new Parliament was formed (one not loyal to James, who was still alive) and this Parliament decided that a Bill of Rights was necessary to re-affirm all the rights that had been imperiled by James.  In order to tie the new King and Queen to an obligation to abide by these rights, the same statue that elevated William and Mary to the throne also contained those rights – The Charter of Rights – The Charter of Ancient and Indubitable Rights.”  In fact, this Bill of Rights of 1689 was referred to as “The new Magna Carta.”  The statue created a contractual obligation, one that tied the right of the King and Queen to rule to an obligation to respect the rights contained in the Charter.

One of those rights was the right of British subjects (“who are Protestants”) to have arms for their defense (self-defense) “suitable to their position and allowed by law.”

Arms seizure weighed heavily during the deliberations in Parliament as it drafted the Bill of Rights of 1689. So incensed that the people, in mass, had been targeted for arms confiscation under the Militia Act (and even some members of Parliament had been targeted), that the people and Parliament felt that the “duty” to have and bear arms was actually a “right.” The ability to arm oneself for self-defense was considered a right.

Indeed, by 1688, and enshrined in the Bill of Rights of 1689, the duty to be armed became a right. One of the rights of Englishmen became the right to have arms for self-defense.

Between 1603 and 1776, the rights of Englishmen became the rights of Americans.

When the first three ships arrived in the New World, in what would become the commonwealth of Virginia, the English settlers encountered hostile French and Dutch settlers as well as hostile Indians. Because of this hostile environment, the arms laws were even stricter than the English ones. English colonists were required to have arms on them at all times and they were required to be trained in their use. “Every male inhabitant shall carry a firearm wherever he goes.”  As the colonies were settled, one by one, they established their state militias. They drew from their knowledge of the militia system in England to develop their own military forces. The resulting colonial militia laws required every able-bodied male citizen to participate and to provide his own arms. For example, in the colony of Virginia, in 1623, the Virginia General Assembly commanded, “that men go not to work in the ground without their arms; That no man go or send abroad without a sufficient partie well-armed.” In 1661, its Governor, William Berkeley stated, “All our freemen are bound to be trained every month in their particular counties.”  Virginia followed the British county lieutenant system; each county had a lieutenant, appointed as the county’s chief militia officer.

Yes, it was a “duty” to have and bear arms, in order to serve in the militia and help defend the colony, but apart from this duty, the colonists knew, as loyal British subjects (which they were and which they considered themselves), they also had the right to own them and to bear them.  For confirmation, they only needed to consult the second most popular book of the day (the first being the Bible), Blackstone’s treatise on the English common law, “Commentaries on the Laws of England” (1765).

In Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Laws of England,” he addressed the right to arms:

“The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject that I shall at the moment mention, is that of having arms for their defense – suitable to their condition and degree, and as such as are allowed by law. It is indeed a public allowance, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and law are found insufficient to restrain violence of oppression.”

Blackstone says clearly that the right is not only for defense and for protection, but it is also to resist tyranny. The main purpose of the right to bear arms is to resist tyranny – in order that the people in the community, together and with their firearms, could overthrow a dictatorship in the last resort, should none of the other checks and balances work.

By the mid 1760’s, tensions were growing increasingly high particularly in the colonies, and in Boston in particular. It wasn’t long before the redcoats arrived, to live among the people of Boston and to make sure that they stayed “in line.” With the Redcoats came acts of criminality – rapes, robberies, murder.  The Boston Gazette published articles warning the colonists that they would soon be disarmed and should they “act out,” they would be taken to England and tried for treason. The colonists began to arm themselves – first to defend themselves against the criminal tendencies of the soldiers and also because it seemed likely that the tensions would escalate into conflict.  They cited the English Bill of Rights, the Militia Acts of the colonies, and even Blackstone’s “Commentaries” for their right to arm themselves.  “It is beyond sophistry to prove (meaning, it is clearly fallacious) that British subjects, to whom the privilege of necessary arms is expressly recognized by the [English] Bill of Rights, and who live in a province were the law requires them to be equipped with arms, are guilty of illegal acts in calling upon one another to be provided with them – as the law directs!”

Citing Blackstone, the colonists understood the reason they were vested with the right to bear arms: “It is a natural right, which the people have reserved to themselves, confirmed by the [English] Bill of Rights, to keep arms for their own defense; and as a Blackstone observer, it is to be made use of when the sanctions of society and law are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.”

Tensions soon escalated and a series of events followed.  Under the Intolerable Acts, the colonial legislature in Boston was abolished and King George III sent General Thomas Gage, a proven military commander at the time, there to serve as the Royal Governor. British spies tipped off General Gage that the colonists were stockpiling ammunition and artillery at nearby Concord. On the night of April 18, 1775, Gage sent a column of soldiers to Concord to destroy the supplies. Their trip led them through Lexington, where they encountered a small group of colonial militiamen. A shot went off (no one knows how it happened), but the response was immediate. Shots rang out and armed conflict between England and Massachusetts had begun. The revolution had begun. British forces drew first blood.

Despite the skirmish, the troops continued to Concord where they found the ammunition and where they also found several thousand angry townsfolk. The troops proceeded to burn the stockpile but from the vantage point of the townsfolk, it looked like they were attempting to burn down the town. And so, the townsfolk opened fire on the troops, forcing them to retreat. As they were retreating the 15 miles or so back to Boston, more and more members of the militia turned out to fire upon them. The British soldiers suffered over 300 casualties. Not only did they draw first blood, but they were defeated.

The fighting, however, was not to be contained in Massachusetts. In Williamsburg, Virginia, the colonists built an armory to store their gunpowder. Late during the night of April 20, 1775, royal governor Dunmore ordered British sailors to raid the armory and to take the gunpowder back aboard their ships. Dunmore allowed this even as statesmen such as Patrick Henry and William Henry Lee and other Virginians were already pushing to revive the state militia – to put into execution the militia law that was passed in the year 1738 – and to put them in the posture of defense (that is, to prepare them to defend the State against the British).

Just a month prior to that event, there was a general alarm that was spreading among the colonies – fueled, no doubt, by men like Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine – that the British were removing gunpowder from the public stock in order to render the colonists unable to resist the Crown. Clearly, as was done in Boston, England was intent on disarming them – just as King Charles II had done to his subjects approximately 100 years ago in the mother country. The King (George III) was not depriving them of their right of representation in Parliament this time (no taxation without representation); now he was stripping them of their right to bear arms for defense.

Only a handful of statesmen recognized what was happening and what its significance was. Patrick Henry was one. It was this general alarm, this general fear that England was coming to disarm the colonists, that prompted him, on the night of March 23 at St. John’s Church to propose three resolutions to raise, equip and prepare the militia for conflict.

His resolutions read simply:

Resolved, that a well-regulated militia composed of gentlemen and yeomen is the natural strength and only security of a free government; that such a militia in this colony would forever render it unnecessary for the mother country to keep among us, for the purpose of our defense, any standing army of mercenary forces, always subversive of the quiet, and dangerous to the liberties of the people, and would obviate the pretext of taxing us for their support.

That the establishment of such a militia is at this time peculiarly necessary, by the state of our laws for the protection and defence of the country some of which have already expired, and others will shortly do so; and that the known remissness of government in calling us together in a legislative capacity renders it too insecure in this time of danger and distress, to rely that opportunity will be given of renewing them in General Assembly or making any provision to secure our inestimable rights and liberties from those farther violations with which they are threatened.

Resolved therefore, that this colony be immediately put into a posture of defence: and that Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Robert Carter Nicholas, Benjamin Harrison, Lemuel Riddick, George Washington, Adam Stephen, Andrew Lewis, William Christian, Edmund Pendleton, Thomas Jefferson and Isaac Zane, Esquires, be a committee to prepare a plan for the embodying arming and disciplining such a number of men as may be sufficient for that purpose.

Perhaps the most rousing speech delivered in colonial America was by Patrick Henry and it was in support of these resolutions:  [As you read the speech, consider the circumstances to which he is speaking, and keeping in mind that men like Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Lee, Washington were keenly aware of the history of the people England, the continued struggle to assert their rights, to seek assurances, to have them violated, and only to have to try to re-assert them again, and again…..]

“The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offence, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves, and the House? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with these war-like preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask, gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free² if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending²if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

With the raid on the armory at Williamsburg, thus confirming Patrick Henry’s worst fears, the most powerful colony in the South (Virginia) was driven into an alliance with the most powerful colony in the North (Massachusetts).  The Boston Revolution soon became an American Revolution.

Thus, the American revolution started over our RIGHT to keep and bear arms. Tensions between the colonies and Great Britain may have started over the right not to be taxed without representation in Parliament (the body from which such taxing measures arose), but the actual revolution itself erupted over the actions of the Crown to disarm the people.

In 1775, the colonies called up the First Continental Congress to seek a peaceful resolution of the growing tensions. That Congress sent a series of petitions to the King to implore him to intercede on their behalf and recognize that their rights were being violated. He laughed at the petitions and likened the colonist to petulant little children who liked to throw fits. [Patrick Henry referenced this effort in his fiery speech at St. John’s: “We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne.”]  In 1776, the colonies called up the Second Continental Congress to manage the war effort against the British. General George Washington was put over the Continental Army and on July 4, 1776, the Congress signed the Declaration of Independence, declaring the colonies to be independent from Great Britain and articulating to a “candid world” the list of grievances against Great Britain which would support and justify its decision to separate.

Once the colonies proclaimed their independence, the strongest sign they could send to demonstrate that independence was to assume statehood and adopt state constitutions (the signs of sovereignty).  And so, each colony organized itself as a state and drafted and adopted a constitution. Most also adopted a Bill of Rights, in one form or another.

Different states provided different models for the right to bear arms. In 1776, George Mason went to work on the Virginia Declaration of Rights. He introduced the enumerated rights with a statement of nature’s law and a statement of the relationship of individuals and government, in general.  He wrote:

THAT all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.

That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the people, nation, or community; of all the various modes and forms of government that is best, which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety, and is most effectually secured against the danger of mal-administration; and that whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right, to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.

Then he addressed the right to arms:

That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided, as dangerous to liberty….

The Virginia Declaration of Rights was adopted June 12, 1776.

Thomas Jefferson submitted a draft of a Bill of Rights to be taken up at the upcoming convention (to draft a constitution for the first government of the “united” states, which as we know, was the Articles of Confederation). He wrote: “No free man shall be debarred the use of arms.”

The Pennsylvania Bill of Rights, adopted in September 1776, recognized a right to bear arms for both self-defense and in defense of the State.

1.  That all men are born equally free, and independent; and have certain, natural, inherent, and inalienable rights; amongst which are; the enjoying and defending of life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

XIII. That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the state.

In March 1780, Massachusetts adopted its Constitution and Bill of Rights, written by John Adams. It acknowledged a right to keep and bear arms, but added that it was for “the common good.”  The MA Bill of Rights read, in part:

The end of the institution, maintenance and administration of government, is to secure the existence of the body-politic; to protect it; and to furnish the individuals who compose it, with the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, their natural rights, and the blessings of life: And whenever these great objects are not obtained, the people have a right to alter the government, and to take measures necessary for their safety, prosperity and happiness.

The body-politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: It is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good.

Part the First. A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Art. I.  All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

XVII.  The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defense.

Looking at these three Constitutions and Bills of Right, we can see that there were at least three (3) colonial models to address the right to arms.

Again, to compare and contrast them concisely, addressing them in the order they were adopted:

(1)  The Virginia model emphasizes the militia.  “A well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state…”

(2)  The Pennsylvania model doesn’t mention militia; it emphases self-defense and defense of the State.  “The people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the State.”

(3)  The Massachusetts model took the Pennsylvania approach, but added a limitation in the form of the clause “for the common defense, and added the people also have a right to “keep” arms.  “The people have a right to keep and bear arms for the common defense.”

These models would become important when our new nation would look to draft a national Bill of Rights.

And that time came in 1787, when after certain leading state leaders – namely, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton – found the Articles of Confederation unworkable for the growing union and took the initiative to call up a new constitutional convention. The Convention was held in Philadelphia from May to September 1787 and rather than heed the constitutional call of the Convention to “amend” the Articles of Confederation, a brand new plan of government was pursued and a brand new Constitution was drafted. Although the delegates from 12 states labored through the hot summer months of that year, engaged in countless debates, and pursued and negotiated through many contentious issues, in the end the final draft, the US Constitution, was not acceptable to many of the delegates. Seven delegates to the Convention walked out and refused to sign it on the last day – September 20, including Virginia’s George Mason. These delegates either complained that it conferred too much power to the federal government (mainly, an unlimited power to tax and spent, and to raise an army) or that it lacked a Bill of Rights, or both. Many of those who did not sign it were anti-Federalists, those who feared a weakening of the States at the hands of the federal government.

Nevertheless, once the Constitution was signed, it went to the States, which, acting in their own conventions, would take up the issue of ratification. If they ratified the Constitution, they would become part of the Union of States and if they didn’t, they would not.  Delaware ratified first, by a unanimous vote. Then came Pennsylvania, New Jersey (unanimous vote), Georgia (unanimous vote), and Connecticut (overwhelmingly). In January 1788, Massachusetts called its convention. Samuel Adams, who, although he did not attend the Philadelphia Convention, attended the ratifying convention. Assessing the Constitution, he addressed the Convention:

“And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience, or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceful citizens, from keeping their own arms, or to raise standing armies, unless necessary for the defense of the United States or of one or more of them, or to prevent the people from petitioning, in a peaceable and orderly manner, the federal legislature, for a redress of grievances, or to subject the people to unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, papers, or possessions.”

Samuel Adams is the strongest unsung hero of the Second Amendment. His writings on the right to have and bear arms goes back many years, even before his days in the Sons of Liberty.

Next, Maryland ratified the Constitution (overwhelmingly), then South Carolina, and finally New Hampshire (narrowly).  When New Hampshire ratified in June 1788, it became the ninth state to do so.  According to Article VII of the Constitution, the Constitution would go into effect when 9 states ratified. And so, the new Union was born.

But this new Union was still terribly fractured.  Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island still hadn’t decided. Actually, North Carolina met in Convention on August 2, 1788 but quickly rejected the Constitution (193-75). It agreed to meet again; it was waiting to see what the other States did regarding a Bill of Rights.

When New Hampshire ratified the Constitution on June 21, 1788, the Virginia Convention was actually still going on. It was contentious. Virginia, New York, and North Carolina were not expected to ratify, and the issue was over a Bill of Rights, which James Madison had argued in Philadelphia was not necessary. George Mason and Edmund Pendleton, two of the delegates from Virginia at the Philadelphia Convention who would not sign the Constitution, were now delegates at the Virginia Ratifying Convention and were committed to preventing the document from being ratified. These men, and many others, were already calling for another Constitutional Convention – particularly George Mason, and he had the potential power to move the plan forward. Mason and Pendleton were joined in sentiment at the Convention by Patrick Henry, who was highly skeptical of the Constitution and was confident it would lead to the consolidation of the states under the federal government.

At issue at the Virginia Ratifying Convention was essentially the concerns of the anti-Federalists, which was that the Constitution lacked a Bill of Rights (and that the government tended to be overly-ambitious and powerful).  The Virginia view, in general, was that a Bill of Rights is the very least that a government owes to its people. Mason argued for a Bill of Rights, and of course, any Bill of Rights worth its salt would have to include a right to bear arms. Patrick Henry told the Convention: “The great object is that every man be armed!”

In the end, a compromise was reached.  James Madison promised that if the Virginia delegation would ratify the Constitution in the Convention he would recommend to the first US Congress that a Bill of Rights be added, as a series of amendments. Madison was known to be a trustworthy man and so, the Constitution was narrowly ratified on June 25 (89-79). However, the Virginia delegation did not merely ratify; in anticipation of a national Bill of Rights, it also proposed and drafted a series of amendments for consideration.

“Resolved, that, previous to the ratification of the new Constitution of government recommended by the late federal Convention, a declaration of rights, asserting, and securing from encroachment, the great principles of civil and religious liberty, and the unalienable rights of the people, together with amendments to the most exceptionable parts of the said Constitution of government, ought to be referred by this Convention to the other states in the American confederacy for their consideration”

When the Virginia delegation went back to write the amendments they would recommend, they looked to the Massachusetts and the Pennsylvania models, in addition to their own model.  The language that they came up with is as follows: “That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state.”

The right to bear arms for defense of oneself and the State comes from the Pennsylvania model. The right to keep and bear arms comes from the Massachusetts model.  By removing express limitations (such as “for the common good” or other qualifiers that might be later construed to limit the right (“for defense of themselves and the State”), the first part of the proposed amendment construes the right to arms in its broadest terms. The second part of the proposed amendment comes from the Virginia model and addresses the militia. The Virginia delegation already believed it was expressed in its broadest terms.

So, the Second Amendment is actually two separate thoughts. The intentional, conscious effort was to express the right to arms in the broadest terms possible, to be understood in its broadest sense.

The New York Convention followed. It wrapped up on July 26, one month after the Virginia Convention. It was another contentious convention. As in Virginia, it was a battle between anti-Federalists and Federalists.  On the anti-Federalist side, the words of the Federal Farmer (possibly Richard Henry Lee) were invoked: “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught how to use them.”  Daniel Webster, for the Federalists, answered: “Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed, as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword because the whole body of the people are armed and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be raised in the United States.”  [to paraphrase: Because of the fact that the people are armed and therefore superior to any troops raised by the United States, they can prevent the execution of any law they perceive not to be just and constitutional].

The debates in New York led to the most famous work on the meaning and intent of the Constitution – the Federalist Papers.  In fact, Madison addresses the militia (and a standing army) in Federalist No. 46.  He wrote: “The people will never have to worry about a standing army because of the state militias.”

The New York Convention very narrowly ratified the Constitution (30-27). But as Virginia did, it called for a Bill of Rights and provided several for consideration.  North Carolina went on to ratify, but only because a Bill of Rights has actually been adopted!  And then Rhode Island ratified after that.

The Constitution was adopted on June 12, 1788 when the ninth state, New Hampshire ratified it. Fall 1788 saw the first national elections and as expected, James Madison was elected to the House of Representatives. In the months after the election and before taking his seat in Congress, which was in New York City at the time), Madison sat at his home in Montpelier and drafted a Bill of Rights. He drew from the proposed amendments that were submitted by the states.  He planned to bring them with him to the first session of Congress and present them, thus making good on his promise. He drafted twelve amendments.

On June 8, 1789, Madison stood up in the House of Representatives and proposed what would become the federal Bill of Rights. His proposed Second Amendment read: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well-armed and well-regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

The first Congress amended Madison’s proposal; it removed the language concerning the conscientious-objector.  Then a committee was formed – a drafting committee – consisting of Madison himself and Roger Sherman, an anti-Federalist, to provide the final draft. The final draft of the Second Amendment was a pared-down version which read: “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.”

In the debates in the Senate on the proposed Bill of Rights, a motion was made to insert into the Second Amendment the words “for the common defense” next to the words “bear arms.”  It was rejected !!

On September 25, 1789, Congress approved the amendments (all 12 of them) and then they were sent to the states.

James Madison’s friend, Tench Coxe, of Philadelphia, provided the most comprehensive analysis of the Second Amendment in a publication under the pen name “The Pennsylvanian.” It was printed in all the states.  He wrote: “As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which might be occasionally called to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the next article [the Second Amendment] in their right to keep and bear their private arms.”

The Bill of Rights was ratified on December 15, 1791.

All the leading commentators of the day saw the right to bear arms as an individual right, including  US Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (1811-1845), who was the leading constitutional expert and commentator during the early-mid 20th century, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cooley (1864-1885), the leading constitutional commentator at the end of the 19th century, and Sir William Blackstone, the leading English commentator who was very influential on our founders and framers.

St. George Tucker, who first gained fame as a Revolutionary War hero from Virginia, became famous again for writing a very famous treatise. In 1803, he wrote a 5-volume set, being characterized as the American version of Blackstone’s “Commentaries.”  It was titled: Blackstone’s Commentaries, with Notes of Reference to the Constitution & Laws of the Federal Government of the United States & of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Tucker was seen as the best source and authority on the original intent and early interpretation of the US Constitution until about 1825, and his work has been cited by the US Supreme Court over forty times. For those looking to understand the meaning and intent of the Constitution at the time it was adopted and as it served our first sessions of government, it would be interesting to read Tucker’s volumes.

Tucker wrote about Blackstone’s exposition on the right to arms as it existed in the English law and explained how it applied to the United States. Tucker wrote: “’The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’ This amendment is without any qualification as to their condition or degree, as in the case of the British government.”

He went on to elaborate even further:  Explaining the scope of the amendment, he wrote: “This [the Second Amendment] may be considered the true palladium of liberty…  The right of the self-defense is the first law of nature; in most governments, it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, then liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.”

In 1825, Tucker’s treatise was replaced by the text written by William Rawle – A View of the Constitution of the United States of America. Regarding the Second Amendment, Rawle wrote in his book: “No clause in the Constitution could by any rule of construction be conceived to give to Congress a power to disarm the people..”  [Rawle was part of the convention in Pennsylvania that ratified the US Bill of Rights; he was offered the position of first US Attorney General but turned it down].

The most influential constitutional commentator of the late 19th century and early 20th century was Thomas Cooley. He was considered the greatest legal mind of the time. He wrote the text: The General Principles of Constitutional Law in the United States of America.  In his text, he explains exactly what the right is that is protected in the Second Amendment: “It may be supposed from the phraseology of this provision that the right to keep and bear arms was only guaranteed to the militia, but this would be an interpretation not warranted by the intent. The militia, as has been elsewhere explained, consists of those persons who, under the law, are liable to the performance of military duty, and are officered and enrolled for service when called upon. But the law may make provision for the enrollment of all who are fit to perform military duty, or of a small number only, or it may wholly omit to make any provision at all; and if the right were limited to those enrolled, the purpose of this guaranty might be defeated altogether by the actions or neglect to act of the government it was meant to hold in check. The meaning of the provision undoubtedly is that the people, from whom the militia must be taken, shall have the right to keep and bear arms, and that they need no permission or regulation of law for the purpose…”

Professor Randy Burnett of Boston University’s School of Law sums up the history of the Second Amendment this way: “What is shown by the historical record is that we have statements made before the second amendment was proposed, while the second amendment was being considered, and immediately after the second amendment was ratified, each of which reflects the understanding of the speaker that the amendment protects an individual right to have and bear arms.  What we don’t have – what we don’t find in the historical record is a single example of any contemporary at the time of the second amendment referring to it as anything other than an individual right.”

Professor Eugene Volokh, of the UCLA School of Law, comments: “Throughout the 1700’s, throughout the 1800’s, and up until the early 1900’s, the right to bear arms was universally seen as an individual right. There was virtually no authority for the collective rights/ states’ right point of view.” (States right to call a militia, that is).

But yet, in the late 20th century and now in the 21st century, somehow this history means nothing?

“The Second Amendment is a right held by States and does not protect the possession of a weapon by a private citizen.”  — The Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit (2000)

“The right to keep and bear arms is meant solely to protect the right of the States to keep and maintain an armed militia.”   — The Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit (1996)

The conservatives on the bench in the Heller case and then in the McDonald case got it right. They chose to be intellectually honest.

References:

DVD:  “In Search of the Second Amendment (A Documentary),” produced and directed by David T. Hardy (2006).  Second Amendment Films LLC

United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939)

District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)

McDonald v. Chicago, 561 US 742 (2010)

Don B. Kates, Jr.  “Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment,” 82 Michigan Law Review (MICH. L. REV.) 204-273 (1983).    Referenced:  http://www.constitution.org/2ll/2ndschol/57mich.pdf

Resolutions of the Provincial Congress of Virginia (Patrick Henry) regarding the militia, March 23, 1775 – http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/res_cong_va_1775.asp

George Mason, the Virginia Declaration of Rights.  Referenced at:  http://www.history.org/almanack/life/politics/varights.cfm

Virginia’s Ratification of the Constitution, Elliott’s Debates (June 25, 1788) –  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/elliot/vol3/june25/

The proposed amendments to the Bill of Rights submitted by the State of Virginia (June 27, 1788) –  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/elliot/vol3/june27/

Teaching American History (an Intereactive Resource) –  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/overview/