Happy Bill of Rights Day!
Bill of Rights Day has come and gone. Did you miss it?
In 1941, barely a week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt declared December 15, the anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights (pictured at right), as the official Bill of Rights Day in America. Yet, not one mention of the special nature of the day did I notice in any media outlet anywhere. And I read a lot of news from a lot of sources every day.
It’s probably just an oversight, but when considering the respect our government currently affords the document amounts to something barely more than contempt, it’s hardly surprising the day came and went with little or no notice. When I found out about the day (a day late) I began to reflect on the Bill of Rights. Did you know there was actually some debate as to whether or not it should be included in the Constitution at all?
It’s true. Thomas Jefferson really wanted a Bill of Rights in the Constitution but James Madison and Alexander Hamilton both argued such a bill was completely unnecessary. It was ridiculous, thought Madison and Hamilton, to articulate a limit on the government when the Constitution clearly and specifically enumerated the ONLY powers the federal government was authorized to use.
In fact, Alexander Hamilton expressed his concerns in the Federalist Papers (Federalist Number 84). “ (B)ills of rights ... are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous." Hamilton said. "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?”
He made a good point. The limited nature of the federal government was clearly understood. Of course it’s not so today. Today the federal government regularly exercises power not granted it by the Constitution. It collects money in ways the Constitution does not prescribe and expends money on things for which it clearly has no authorization. The specific, limited nature of the Constitution has been all but ignored by generations of politicians who have presumed to know what’s best and have grown drunk with their power.
In the end, Madison acquiesced to Jefferson’s desire for a Bill of Rights. He did so in order that the entire Constitution would not be rejected as a result. Besides, as the “Father of the Constitution” he almost certainly would have wanted to have an influence on any additions or changes (The notes he took while formulating the Bill of Rights can be seen at left).
At the time I would have been persuaded to agree with Madison and Hamilton about the Bill of Rights being unnecessary. With the benefit of hindsight I am grateful Jefferson won the argument. Even with those ten, specifically mentioned limitations on the government, our elected officials and courts continue to attempt to overstep their authority and take away the rights (clearly listed there) that they are sworn to protect.
I do hope you had a good “Bill of Rights Day,” even if it was largely forgotten. Here’s hoping the document, itself, does not soon follow.
For further reading go here, here, or here.