L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 300, December 12, 2004
Bill of Rights Day December 15
Bill of Rights Day
Exclusive to TLE
On Wednesday, December 15th, we celebrate Bill of Rights Day.
This should be the happiest of patriotic holidays! When our founders wrote and ratified our Constitution, many of our leaders and several of our original thirteen states were concerned that our new Constitution offered no special provisions to protect individual rights. A compromise was reached: those states most concerned about the issue actually voted to ratify our Constitution only on the condition that a Bill of Rights be drafted and ratified at the earliest opportunity.
Our Constitution did not establish our nation. Prior to its enactment, we had the Articles of Confederation, a document which established a loose and fairly easy-going alliance between thirteen separate and distinct entities. The central government of this alliance was remarkably (by today's standards) impotent and had no power whatsoever over the internal affairs of the individual states. With the drafting of the Constitution, and the centralization of many federal powers that it represented, the states were rightly concerned that the federal government could override the state governments and impose tyranny from without. Several of these states already had Bills of Rights enumerated in their own state constitutions, guarantees of freedom that they naturally did not want to lose. In fact, our national Bill of Rights is based on the Bill of Rights in effect at the time in the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson's home state.
The Bill of Rights was written specifically to chain its own governmentto prevent the infant government from ever interfering with certain basic rights.
The Bill of Rights was never intended to grant the rights enumerated within. Those were assumed to be ours by virtue of our having been born human beings. No, the purpose was to enumerate certain very specific rights that our government could never touch. Our Bill of Rights went much farther than its British antecedents, all the way back to the Magna Carta, because it made the assumption of private ownership of property, something that had been impossible in European monarchies.
In 18th Century Europe, only the monarch truly owned property. In effect, even the nobles "rented" their estates, paying with taxes and other duties, such as providing levies in time of war. The King could seize such property at any time, and he often did so out of spite or because he did not approve of such an individual's religion. Many of America's original colonists came here fleeing such a system, and the prospect of feeling secure in their own homes and personal effects was very important to them.
This day which rolls around every December is a time for reality checks. It is a time for every single American to read those first ten amendments to our Constitutionwhether they are doing so for the umpteenth time or for the very first timeand decide for themselves if our government has kept its end of the bargain.
I know I do not need to tell you that the outlook is bleak, particularly with the recent passage of the new Intelligence Reform bill. Even more frightening is the fact that the bill was 3,000 pages long, more than twice as long as the Patriot Act, and provided at the last minute to legislators in almost exactly the same way. 96 Senators voted for the bill, with two abstentions (Kerry, Edwards), and two nays (Byrd, Hollings).
We already know this much. You may now be declared a terrorist and subject to horrifically increased surveillance and police powers as an individual and without being identified with a terrorist group. In other words, if your government does not like the fact that you oppose it, you are now a terrorist. Worse, state drivers' licenses have now been standardized, amounting to a national ID, whether they ever choose to call it one or not. With recent Supreme Court rulings stating that you are required to produce ID when asked by a peace officer, even in the absence of a crime, we now live in a "Papers, please" society. There is little point in saying you will die first. This situation is already a fact. You have been betrayed.
There will be much more information coming out concerning this bill over the next few weeks. With 3,000 pages to analyze, this is going to take a bit of time. For your survival, I strongly suggest that you pay attention to the analyses that will be offered by various organizations, such as the ACLU.
A bill 3,000 pages in length also brings up another very interesting point. How many of your legislators actually read this law before voting for it? Probably none of them!
My personal opinion is that the Bill of Rights is completely dead in America. There is no provision that has not been broken repeatedly and egregiously in recent years.
Let me leave you with one further thought. I'd like to quote for you the Declaration of Independence. It's a long quotation, and I apologize for that, but we all have some serious decision making to do, and I believe that this particular thought deserves to be heard in its entirety, and not taken out of context.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Are we looking at "light and transient causes" here? Or is this "a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same object [and evincing] a desire to reduce [us] under absolute despotism"?
Each of us will have to decide these questions in our own way and in accordance with each person's individual conscience. We all have some very serious soul-searching to do in the coming weeks and months. Now is the time for it! We dare not leave it too late.
Spend your Bill of Rights Day profitably, in productive thought. I hope to see some of your ideas here in the coming weeks.