why do we need a bill of rights
After the 1787 Constitutional Convention, there were intense ratification debates about the proposed Constitution. Both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton expressed grave reservations about Thomas Jefferson's, George Mason's and others' insistence that the Constitution be amended by the Bill of Rights. Those reservations weren't the result of a lack of concern for liberty. To the contrary, they were concerned about the loss of liberties. Alexander Hamilton expressed his reservation in Federalist Paper No. 84, "(B)ills of rights. are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. " Hamilton asks, "For why declare that things shall not be done (by Congress) which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given (to Congress) by which restrictions may be imposed? " Hamilton's argument was that Congress can only do what the Constitution specifically gave it authority to do. Powers not granted belong to the people and the states. Another way of examining Hamilton's concern: Why have an amendment prohibiting Congress from infringing on our right to picnic on our back porch when the Constitution gives Congress no authority to infringe upon that right in the first place? Alexander Hamilton added that a Bill of Rights would "contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more (powers) than were granted. (it) would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. " Going back to our picnic example, those who would usurp our God-given liberties might enact a law banning our right to have a picnic.
They'd justify their actions by claiming that nowhere in the Constitution is there a guaranteed right to have a picnic. To mollify Alexander Hamilton's and James Madison's fears about how a Bill of Rights might be used as a pretext to infringe on human rights, the Ninth Amendment was added that reads: "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. " In essence, the Ninth Amendment says it's impossible to list all of our God-given or natural rights. Just because a right is not listed doesn't mean it can be infringed upon or disparaged by Congress. The 10th Amendment is a reinforcement of the Ninth saying, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. " That means if a power is not delegated to Congress, it belongs to the states or the people. The Ninth and 10th Amendments mean absolutely nothing today, as Americans have developed a level of naive trust for Congress, the White House and the U. S. Supreme Court that would have astonished the Founders, a trust that will lead to our undoing as a great nation. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. Send e-mail to wwilliam@gmu. edu.
Why Do We Have A Bill Of Rights? By Daniel Sheridan The Founding Fathers met in the summer of 1787 to create a new form of government for these United States. George Washington and James Madison called the convention a miracle. They were amazed that people with diverse backgrounds were able to come up with a document the sole purpose of which is to protect the people through an ingenious system of checks and balances.
Yet, as great as the document was, there were a few in the Convention who couldn t bring themselves to sign it. These men were Governor Randolph of Virginia, and George Mason, another Virginian. Mason was the famous author of the Virginia Bill of Rights. Their complaint was that the document didn t contain a bill of rights. Once the Constitution was complete it was sent to the States for ratification. The States debated the issue. Some of the debates were hotly contested, especially in New York and Virginia. One of the main arguments of those who opposed ratification was that the Constitution lacked a bill of rights, just as Mason and Randolph had said. Patrick Henry took the lead on this point. He said history has proved that a government will assume just about any power unless it was told Бhands off! Б in no uncertain terms. Henry said: БI go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? Б This is a good argument because the facts of HenryБs statement were indisputable. However, Alexander Hamilton argued against a bill of rights.
He argued that bills of rights traditionally were written to restrain Monarchs, and since America is a Republic, a bill of rights is unnecessary. But his most impressive argument was in Federalist # 84: БI go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? Б Both parties ultimately got their way. The Constitution was ratified and no time was wasted satisfying those who demanded a Bill of Rights. James Madison got the ball rolling at the very first meeting of the Congress. The БFather of the ConstitutionБ now became the assembler of the Bill of Rights. The States submitted 189 suggestions, Madison boiled them down to 17, and Congress approved 12. The 12 were submitted to the States in September of 1789, they ratified 10 of them. The Bill of Rights went into effect in December of 1791. БThe Conventions of a number of the States having, at the time of 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 Б
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