Most people think the Bill of Rights (the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution) are part of the original document. They actually were added briefly after the Constitution was written and ratified by the states and after serious debate about the wording and content of each Amendment. There were originally 20 Amendments, but only 12 survived the debate in the House and Senate and were sent to the states for approval. Of those 12, only 10 were ratified by the necessary two thirds of the states. One of the remaining two was eventually ratified some 200 years later as the 27th Amendment. Where the body of the Constitution created a framework of government responsive to the people and mostly under their control, the Bill of Rights was added to guarantee the “unalienable” rights that the government was formed to protect and defend for each citizen. Each of the items presented in this group of guarantees is worthy of an article by itself, so this article will portray the basic concepts that are addressed and how those concepts make us more free, more prosperous and a more happy people when they are protected and honored.
Protecting the freedom of thought, opinion and communication – The 1st Amendment specifically addresses freedom of religion, speech, the press (printing or broadcasting what you think), assembly and disagreeing with the government (redress of grievances). While this covers a lot of ground, the common theme is that it is none of the governments business what you believe, think or say unless you do damage to others, and then only if that damage is based on provably false statements. Throughout this document, it becomes evident that the founders agreed with the motto, “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.” They wished to grant the greatest freedom possible in keeping with the peace and well-being of the citizens.
Protecting the right to defend our selves, families and property – Specifically addressed by the 2nd through the 8th Amendments, we have the right to rebut accusations, not be intimidated by others or by the government, not to give testimony against ourselves or our spouses and be reasonably well treated while under accusation unless and until convicted of an offense. We are also protected from “cruel and unusual” punishment
Protecting our right of privacy and to not be put upon or abused by the government – The 4th Amendment is the gold standard here as it states clearly that the government cannot collect, look at or use our personal information (persons, houses, papers, and effects) without warrant issued by a judge and that the warrants cannot be issued except by probably cause “supported by Oath or affirmation”. In my opinion, the current collecting and sifting of our communications and movements by the NSA is a clear violation of this right. Amendment 3 also addresses this issue.
Protecting our right to defend ourselves against accusations or charges – Amendments 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 make it clear that no punishment can be affixed to us unless the government can prove beyond reasonable doubt and without resorting to dishonest or coercive actions that we are guilty of a crime.
Protecting us from out-of-control government and tyranny – Amendments 9 and 10 make it clear that these are only a few of our unalienable rights and that it is the duty of the government to recognize all of those rights and not assume it has the right to define them to enhance their own power. All of the Amendments in the Bill of Rights address this issue, but perhaps the most critical is the 2nd Amendment which allows citizens the right to keep and bear arms – not just to hunt and target shoot, but to defend themselves from all enemies, foreign and domestic – including their own government if, in the words of Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration, it “becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” An unarmed populace cannot defend “the security of a free state”. We need to understand and defend these freedoms as the founders did.