05 May 2010

39. The Bill of Rights: 200 Years, 200 Facts: A Guide to American Liberties

The Bill of Rights: 200 Years, 200 Facts: A Guide to American Liberties

This is just a little book of fifty pages. I have been meaning to read it for a while now.

This was written in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. The last few pages answer questions concerning a tour of the United States with the priceless original Bill of Rights document. I believe this book was sold as a souvenir as part of that tour.

It is short and quick. I almost didn’t bother blogging about it. Then I thought about it. It is fifty pages and I learned a bunch from it. I have blogged about similar readings in the past. What the heck. I am still stunned at how each section showed me, yet again, how much more there is to know about our own history.

This book covered a lot of information. It did it in a question and answer format. It started with some historical information and then traveled through each Constitutional Amendment that makes up the Bill of Rights.

As an example of what I learned: One of the questions was about when the Bill of Rights was written. Part of the answer said “After much debate the House and Senate approved twelve amendments at the end of September, 1789.” The answer to the question is quite literally September, 1789. Short, quick, easy…hey, wait a minute…that can’t be right!

You see, the Bill of Rights is a group of constitutional amendments that were passed as a group quickly after The Constitution of the United States was signed. Many representatives did not sign the Constitution because it did not contain a Bill of Rights. North Carolina refused to even ratify the Constitution itself until the Bill of Rights was included. I did not know these little tidbits of information. The point is…the Bill of Rights only contains ten amendments. The answer to the question says Congress passed twelve. What gives?

Come to find out, later in the book, that to ratify a Constitutional amendment three fourths of the States must approve of it. The first two amendments in the Bill of Rights did not pass that test and were dropped. What were these two amendments that didn’t make it through the state approval?

The original first amendment would have required that there be at least one representative in Congress for every 50,000 people. It says that today (1991) that would mean our current 435 member Congress would have over 5,000 members. I am kind of glad that one didn’t make the final bill.

The original second amendment would have required that no salary raise for members of Congress could take effect until after the next election for Congress.

Anyway, each amendment was voted on separately by the state legislatures. The first two did not get ratified. So, our current first amendment would actually have been the third amendment…and so on.

Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia voted to pass all twelve amendments. Georgia, Connecticut and Massachusetts didn’t even ratify the Bill of Rights before it went into effect.

I am also glad I read it for another reason. The second amendment has been one in which I see a lot of conflict in our society. It reads: “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 infringed.” Most gun ownership proponents will only quote the second half of that statement. When I ask what “well regulated militia” they belong to, it turns into an argument. I contend that there is no constitutional right to own firearms to defend my house from robbers; to plink cans, to hunt, or to overthrow a tyrannical government. The only reason to own them is to be part of a well regulated militia in defense of the people.

This book helped me with that argument a bit. It says “The courts have consistently interpreted this Amendment to be a limitation on the federal government’s right to eliminate the state militia.

I believe this militia is the National Guard, State Troopers, local police, etc etc. What was needed in the 18th century is not needed today. My problem comes into play when I try to find a way to disarm the population. It would be impossible without creating a situation where law abiding citizens become vulnerable to the criminal element. It would get ugly long before the benefits would be seen and people would die. So, leave it the way it is and let the people keep their guns. That is what I think. I am getting off on a tangent. 

Anyway, there was a lot of information about the history, intent, interpretation and implementation of the Bill of Rights within out society. It was fascinating to read much of it. Sometimes it was very basic. Sometimes it was a whole new concept for me.

I am glad I found it and glad I read it.

This was a pretty long post for a fifty page book. LOL

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