The rest of the story about Bill of Rights
In response to Mr. Timothy Parker’s letter in last Wednesday’s edition, I hereby submit the following for your consideration.
Mr. Parker sees no historical basis for Dr. Hendrickson’s claim that, “To the founders, government’s sole legitimate purpose is to protect our rights.”
Yet in the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote, “all Men are created equal ... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights ... That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men.” Seems to me Jefferson is saying government is supposed to protect our rights.
Next, Mr. Parker questions the importance of the Bill of Rights. There was considerable debate at the Constitutional Convention on this. Some delegates felt that it was unnecessary, while others felt it would be impossible to provide a complete enumeration of the rights of man, while still others believed any attempt to enumerate rights would result in infringement against any rights not so enumerated.
Thus a compromise was reached that a Bill of Rights, detailing the most critical rights, would swiftly be added. Shortly after the first Congress (under the new Constitution) convened, James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights in the House of Representatives.
Mr. Parker mentions that Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence listed property as one of the unalienable rights, and he questions why this was replaced with “the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Quite simply, slave owners regarded slaves as property; thus anti-slavery members of the Continental Congress feared that recognizing “Property” as an unalienable right might be regarded by slave owners as an endorsement of slavery.
He goes on further to state that the Constitution was intentionally vague so that future generations might interpret it to suit the needs of the present age. However, the Founders included the deliberately-difficult amendment process, allowing the Constitution to adapt to new circumstances after thoughtful and considerate debate.
The Founders had lived under the “English Constitution,” a collection of documents such as the Magna Carta, and various common law provisions. The unwritten nature of the “English Constitution” allowed the king and Parliament to inflict continual abuses upon the people by “interpreting” it to suit their fancy. If we accept Mr. Parker’s view of a fluid Constitution being newly interpreted in each age, then the Constitution has no enduring meaning and it need not have been written in the first place.
The federal government, with its one-size-fits-all solutions and complete lack of accountability, cannot address the ills of society.
Rather, the states and local governments, being closer to the people, are a more appropriate place to attempt governmental intervention in the affairs of man. States can try different solutions; those which are successful may be adopted by their neighbors, and those which fail can be cast aside.
And if people finds themselves in a state that is not to their liking, they can follow Ronald Reagan’s advice and “vote with their feet”.
Peachtree City, Ga.