Today in history

On this day in 1791, Virginia becomes the last state to ratify the Bill of Rights, making the first ten amendments to the Constitution law and completing the revolutionary reforms begun by the Declaration of Independence. Before the Massachusetts ratifying convention would accept the Constitution, which they finally did in February 1788, the document’s Federalist supporters had to promise to create a Bill of Rights to be amended to the Constitution immediately upon the creation of a new government under the document.

The newly elected Congress drafted the Bill of Rights on December 25, 1789. Virginia’s ratification on this day in 1791 created the three-fourths majority necessary for the ten amendments to become law. Drafted by James Madison and loosely based on Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, the first ten amendments give the following rights to all United States citizens:

1.Freedom of religion, speech and assembly
2.Right to keep and bear arms
3.No forcible quartering of soldiers during peacetime
4.Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure
5.Right to a grand jury for capital crimes and due process. Protection from double jeopardy, self-incrimination and public confiscation of private property without just compensation.
6.Right to speedy and public trial by jury and a competent defense
7.Right to trial by jury for monetary cases above $20
8.Protection against excessive bail or fines and cruel and unusual punishments
9.Rights not enumerated are retained by the people
10.Rights not given to the federal government or prohibited the state governments by the Constitution, are reserved to the States… or to the people


Do our rights as humans come from God, or from man?

Some of the signers of the Constitution believed that a Bill of Rights was unnecessary; they thought that it was “self-evident” that we are “…endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights”. The Bill of Rights was ratified in order to insure that the government created by the Constitution could not infringe upon those Rights, not to grant them.

The government was established to protect those Rights, not to grant them. Remember, any rights granted by government can be taken away by government.

I have recently seen statements that healthcare, education, and even broadband internet service were human rights; the Founders would have been astounded.

Matt Lewis weighs in:

This might sound like a pedantic point to make, but nearly all of our political discord comes down to fundamental differences in our worldviews. Two very good people can start out with two very different philosophies of life and inevitably come to two very different conclusions on a nearly innumerable amount of problems. Sometimes the consequences are profound. And that’s the case here. Rejection of this foundational principle of God-given law would inexorably lead someone to come to vastly different conclusions about any number of things compared to someone like me who embraces this premise. When liberals and conservatives differ over whether or not the state has the right to usurp this or that right, dig deep enough, and you will often find the root of the disagreement lies here.

I believe very strongly that our rights come from God. And I believe nearly as strongly that the implications of believing that our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are granted by the state are potentially catastrophic. Ideas have consequences, and while some might see quibbling over such esoteric and grandiose ideas to be a waste of time, the truth is that where one comes down on such fundamental questions will likely predetermine where one comes down on a wide range of modern-day “hot-button” issues. When you consider how much of the current political debate hinges on fights about individual liberty and the size and scope of government, this makes sense.

Set aside religion and consider this: If our fundamental rights are merely granted by the state, then they can be taken away by the state. What is more, the state would have no moral compunction not to rob us of our rights. The state is not particularly moral or special or better than people. The state is people. If they don’t have some larger, higher moral code that guides them, then assumptions about what constitutes the “good” are, at least to some degree, arbitrary. Absent an immutable standard, why wouldn’t the law of the jungle rule? In nature, predators prey on the weak. Can we honestly convince ourselves that people are better than that? Some are, sure. But many are not.

Without an absolute law that transcends the whims of man, the very concept of “rights” metastasizes into a definition having more to do with the current and often capricious preference of the majority. Oppressed minorities have long found comfort (and, in fact, seized the moral high ground) by pointing out that there is a greater law, a universal sense of right and wrong, that transcends the will of the majority.


Happy Constitution Day!

The delegates to the Philadelphia Constitution Convention signed the document September 17, 1787.

How many of our citizens have actually read the Constitution of the United States? I used to carry around a little book of the Constitution and amendments; now I have an app on my phone.

I am of the strict construction/original intent school of Constitutional study. Most of the Constitution is written in pretty plain English. There are a few places where it could be clearer, but we have the Federalist papers (yes, I have those as well) and other writings by the Founders to guide us.

The Constitution, like the Bible, does not change with changing times. If we as a country want to change what it says, there is a prescribed way to amend it (which has been done 27 times). Until we do that, I believe our government should follow this document to the letter.

I encourage everyone to read the Constitution and know what it says, so that we can hold those in our government to the framework of this great compact.


Negative vs. positive rights

Walter Williams on negative versus positive freedom:

Negative freedom or rights refers to the absence of constraint or coercion when people engage in peaceable, voluntary exchange. Some of these negative freedoms are enumerated in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. More generally, at least in its standard historical usage, a right is something that exists simultaneously among people. As such, a right imposes no obligation on another. For example, the right to free speech is something we all possess. My right to free speech imposes no obligation upon another except that of noninterference. Likewise, my right to travel imposes no obligation upon another.

Positive rights is a view that people should have certain material things — such as medical care, decent housing and food — whether they can pay for them or not. Seeing as there is no Santa Claus or tooth fairy, those “rights” do impose obligations upon others. If one person has a right to something he did not earn, of necessity it requires that another person not have a right to something he did earn.

What the positive rights tyrants want but won’t articulate is the power to forcibly use one person to serve the purposes of another. After all, if one person does not have the money to purchase food, housing or medicine and if Congress provides the money, where does it get the money? It takes it from some other American, forcibly using that person to serve the purposes of another. Such a practice differs only in degree, but not kind, from slavery.