Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
"[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."
Thomas Jefferson, December 20, 1787
Started in the middle of 1776, and sent for ratification to all 13
colonies by the end of 1777, the Articles of Confederation were our
original agreement to become a country- a confederation of 13 separate
states that agreed to work together to achieve their independance from
England. The last state, Maryland, ratified it in March of 1781. It
was felt this was necessary in order to legitimize our revolutionary
government and allow us to enter into diplomatic relations with
European countries, deal with Indian problems, and settle territorial
problems. Soon, certain of the Founding Fathers decided our weak
central government was a detriment to our continuing existance. They
didn't allow for the government to collect taxes to pay war debts, and
provided for no president or court system.
From the linked article
On January 21, 1786, the Virginia Legislature, following James
Madison's recommendation, invited all the states to send delegates
to Annapolis, Maryland to discuss ways to reduce interstate conflict.
At what came to be known as the
the few state delegates in
attendance endorsed a motion that called for all states to meet in
in May 1787 to discuss ways to improve
the Articles of Confederation in a "Grand Convention." Although the
states' representatives to the
in Philadelphia were only authorized to amend the Articles, the representatives held
secret, closed-door sessions and wrote a new constitution. The new
Constitution gave much more power to the central government, but
characterization of the result is disputed.
From the ACLU's "The
Bill of Rights; A Brief History"
The Constitution was remarkable, but deeply flawed. For one thing, it
did not include a specific declarationor billof individual
rights. It specified what the government could do but did not say what
it could not do. For another, it did not apply to everyone. The
"consent of the governed" meant propertied white men only.
The absence of a "bill of rights" turned out to be an obstacle to the
Constitution's ratification by the states. It would take four more
years of intense debate before the new government's form would be
resolved. The Federalists opposed including a bill of rights on the
ground that it was unnecessary. The Anti-Federalists, who were afraid
of a strong centralized government, refused to support the
Constitution without one.
It is important to note that the mood in the country was one of great
anger at the treatment of the colonists by England. Particularly
vexing was the enactment and enforcement of the Stamp Act of 1765.
From the ACLU link above:
"Early American mistrust of government power came from the colonial
experience itself. Most historians believe that the pivotal event was
the Stamp Act, passed by the English Parliament in 1765. Taxes were
imposed on every legal and business document. Newspapers, books and
pamphlets were also taxed. Even more than the taxes themselves, the
Americans resented the fact that they were imposed by a distant
government in which they were not represented. And they were further
enraged by the ways in which the Stamp Act was enforced.
Armed with "writs of assistance" issued by Parliament, British customs
inspectors entered people's homes even if they had no evidence of a
Stamp Act violation, and ransacked the people's belongings in search
of contraband. The colonialists came to hate these "warrantless"
searches and they became a rallying point for opposition to British
From these experiences came a uniquely American view of power and
liberty as natural enemies. The nation's founders believed that
containing the government's power and protecting liberty was their
most important task, and declared a new purpose for government: the
protection of individual rights."
A number of prominent Americans were alarmed at the omission of
individual liberties in the proposed constitution. George Mason,
author of the Virginia Bill of Rights, refused to sign the document,
as did Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts.
Thomas Jefferson, U.S. Minister to France at the time, wrote James
Madison that he was concerned about "the omission of a bill of
rights.... providing clearly.... for freedom of religion, freedom of the
press, protection against standing armies, and restriction against
Aware of the lack of these provisions, George Washington urged
Congress in his first inaugural address to propose amendments that
offered "a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen and a
regard for public harmony."
Motivated by these leading Americans, Congress responded by submitting
Amendments to the Constitution providing for essential civil
liberties. They were officially proposed on September 25, 1789. Of
the original twelve, Articles 3-12 were ratified. Accordingly, in
1791 these articles became the first ten amendments to the
Constitution.....known collectively as The Bill of Rights.
Here are the two which did not make it into the BOR. Personally, I
(Lee) believe that Article II should have been kept. It might have had
a major impact on whether some of the elected stretched it out to be a
After the first enumeration required by the first article of the
Constitution, there shall be one representative for every thirty
thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which
the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be
not less than one hundred representatives, nor less than one
representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of
representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the
proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not
less than two hundred representatives, nor more than one
representative for every fifty thousand persons.
No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and
Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of
Representatives shall have intervened.
So we arrive at the creation of the Bill of Rights. For the purposes
of this series, we are going to gloss over the fact that WHEN WRITTEN
the Bill of Rights was not aimed at women or blacks, and Indians were
not even considered Americans. We will discuss it as applying to ALL
citizens of the United States of America, as it does now, even though
women, blacks, and Indians weren't citizens then.
The conclusion we can draw from this history is that without the Bill
of Rights, the United States would not exist as it does today. The
Constitution would never have been ratified. We might still be a
confederation. Or we might have broken up into a balkanized group of
small countries. We might even have been re-conquered by England. So,
it is safe to say the Bill of Rights is why America exists today. It
behooves us all to refuse to tolerate anything that might even tend to
weaken the Bill of Rights. In order to protect it, we must know what
it says, and what it meant to the people of the day who said it. Words
change. 200 years ago, "faggot" was a bundle of wood. Today, we all
know that is not the case. Today, it is a word loaded with hate. We
need to read the Bill of Rights with a careful eye towards the
definition of the words used in the context of the day they were
written. We will attempt to provide those definitions and where we
got them whenever we explain the context. In conclusion, I leave you
with the Bill of Rights. Contemplate the individual parts. I look
forward to our discussions of each part over the ensuing weeks.
We would prefer that this portion of the discussion not focus on
individual Amendments, but rather the manner and means that brought us
these wonderful words.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
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
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without
the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be
prescribed by law.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers,
and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause,
supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the
place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous
crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except
in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when
in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any
person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of
life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a
witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or
property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be
taken for public use, without just compensation.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a
speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and
district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district
shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of
the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the
witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining
witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed
twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no
fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of
the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor
cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be
construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
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.