Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Happy Bill of Rights Day...Kinda

Today is Bill of Rights Day in the United States.

I have long been smitten with our Bill of Rights. I guess I really first became truly aware of them (as least as much as I can remember) in the fifth grade--the same time I began to revere the Constitution as a whole. Like the rest of the Constitution, when I first read the Bill of Rights, I did not fully understand them. But I was quite fascinated by what I did comprehend--or at least thought I comprehended.

As time has worn one, I have become a bit more wise--or at least less ignorant--and I continue to love the history and theory behind our first ten amendments to the Constitution.

Anyone who knows the difference between a federalist and an anti-federalist knows the story behind the creation and adoption of the Bill of Rights. (And how the anti-federalists were right all along.) In a nutshell here it is.

Fearing that the proposed Constitution would leave too much of a chance for the newly formed federal government to go beyond its power and infringe on the liberty of sovereign states and individuals, the anti-federalists--including Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and George Mason--opposed the adoption of the Constitution. The federalist Madison did not really understand all the hullabaloo. His position was that the people had no reason to fear loosing their rights under the Constitution as the government could only act as expressly laid out by the document. But in an effort to keep the anti-federalists from undermining the document's ratification, Madison drafted some 20 some odd amendments, sent them out to the states, and what survived became the Bill of Rights.

With the promised protection of rights, the federalist convinced the states to come together and adopt the new Constitution. Supposedly states' rights would be protected and individual liberty would not be in jeopardy.

Of course, we know that has not been the case. As constittuional interpretation has become more broad, liberty has shrunk. Moreover, many of the anti-federalist fears have now come true. Not only has the original document been trambled upon, but the Bill of Rights itself has been gutted.

So as we celebrate Bill of Rights Day, is it a day for celebration or mourning.

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