Bill of Rights

Celebrating Individual Rights on Independence Day

At the country's founding, there were no walls to stop people from coming ashore and few rules to stop anyone from trying out new ideas.

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Did you think about the signing of the Declaration of Independence this week?

The July 4 holiday is meant to honor that, not just fireworks. Ironically, government's grown so much since 1776 that fireworks might be illegal in your town.

The Declaration wasn't about creating rules for citizens to obey. It wasn't just about condemning the British, either.

Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues created a document steeped in the idea of individual rights. He could have written about the desire to replace a bad king with a good king, but he didn't.

The founders' bold plan was to design a completely new sort of country—one where people could rule themselves.

The Colonies were already known around the world for being a place where enterprising people could chart their own destiny. Now they would become a nation.

The population grew quickly as opportunity attracted immigrants. There were no walls to stop people from coming ashore and few rules to stop anyone from building a home or a business, or trying out new ideas.

So people prospered.

When the Declaration was written, no one had indoor plumbing or running water. Just 3 million people lived here. Most were much poorer than their relatives in England.

But within a century, America was the most prosperous country in the world.

Although it's the Declaration that we celebrate on the Fourth, it was another document, the Constitution, ratified 12 years later, that really gave the details of the system of limited government that would shape America.

The founders were sick of British tyranny. They understood the danger of big government.

Jefferson said, trust no man with too much government power; instead "bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."
James Madison wrote, "The powers delegated by the proposed constitution to the federal government are few and defined."

Some delegates still opposed the Constitution, not because it was too radical, but because they feared it still left government too much power.

Looking at what politicians and regulators have done since, I guess those delegates were right.

One wrote, "Conceiving as I did that the liberties of America were not secured by the system, it was my duty to oppose it." He was outvoted, but objections like his inspired the Bill of Rights to further bind government.

The limits it imposed have done a lot of good.

During the Korean War, when steelworkers threatened to strike, President Truman nationalized the steel industry, claiming he had that power because America was at war. The Supreme Court overruled him and returned the steel mills to their owners. Good.

In 1895, Congress passed an income tax. The Supreme Court said, no, the Constitution does not give you the power to do that, and struck the income tax down. Eventually, politicians and state legislatures amended the Constitution to allow the tax. But at least they had to go through proper constitutional procedures and get a two-thirds vote.

Maybe those rulings made Presidents Bush and Obama think twice about trying to nationalize America's banks when the housing bubble burst. Maybe it will restrain President Trump when he … OK, I don't know what he may try to do, but his shifting moods make me nervous.

So far, the Constitution has at least slowed down big government. For a long time, the Supreme Court ignored the Second Amendment, but now they've started to enforce that, too.

The Constitution and Declaration didn't fully succeed. After all, Thomas Jefferson promised "a wise and frugal government," one leaving men "free to regulate their own pursuits."

Still, thanks to the founders' vision of limited government, we're closer to that ideal than most people who have ever lived.

That's a reason to celebrate.

COPYRIGHT 2017 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS INC.

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  1. The Declaration of Independence was excellent, for its time or any time, except for that pesky slavery thing. But the Constitution — eye, there’s the rub. I wonder how the Articles of Confederation would have worked out if the statists hadn’t been able to win the propaganda war. I think it would have been pretty successful with just a little more patience, and maybe with some tweak so that the war debt could have been paid off more fairly.

    Still, for its time, the Constitution was a damned good second draft. Nothing else like it on the same scale. Europe was still hip deep in monarchs for another 140 years, and then some were just replaced by different kinds of dictators, and some of those still exist.

    So hats off! Pretty good job for a brand new system of governance in the midst of so many despots.

    1. Once again, its the best document about freedom ever to date. Just like the US is the best country ever to date because of its capitalist leanings.

      Sad to watch the brain damaged swarm trying to tear it all apart.

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  2. “In 1895, Congress passed an income tax. The Supreme Court said, no, the Constitution does not give you the power to do that, and struck the income tax down. Eventually, politicians and state legislatures amended the Constitution to allow the tax. But at least they had to go through proper constitutional procedures and get a two-thirds vote.”

    Yeah, John S., good point!

    And since then, HOW MANY programs have been added, where they did NOT amend the Cuntstitution?!?!? President (not Congress) makes war, welfare, Social Security, minimum wage, price controls, drug war, FDA-DEA-KGB-spies-Gestapo-“Driving-While-Black”, and on and on…

  3. Something something white men something something slaveholders

    1. You left out the NATIVE AMERICAN GENOCIDE.

      1. “You left out the NATIVE AMERICAN GENOCIDE.”

        And that has to do with the Constitution exactly how?
        Go screw your chickens, “cuck”.

  4. This article misses the point that although the _federal_ government was restrained by the Constitution, the state governments were not. It was only at the time of the Fourteeneth Amendment, following the Civil War, that the nation decided to start setting rules on what state government could and could not do. In fact, the whole point of limiting the federal government in the original constitution was to _prevent_ it from overruling the states.

    The states were quite happy to engage in unjust, mercantilistic practices, e.g., by granting artificial monopolies to politically connected business people. They were also free to permit and support he institution of slavery. This political practice continued throughout he nineteenth century, and made a mockery of the idea of a truly free society. I would argue that the illiberal practices of nineteenth century state governments led directly to the disastrous shift to centralized, federal wealth redistribution in the twentieth. Had the states not engaged in unjust distortions of their economies (case in point: railroads), there would have been no need or desire to begin restraining corporations or attempting to codify “workers’ rights.”

    1. We must not misread the constitution through the lense of today’s statist misery. While the libertarian impulses expressed in the Declaration were immensely noble, the Constitution itself was an exercise in protecting the rights of the states to engage in whatever unjust practices they darned well pleased. From this perspective, the Constitution illustrated precisely the criticism leveled against democracy by the Royalists: if you empower the demos to make decisions about what is and is not a just law, the majority will inevitably make poorly reasoned, short-sighted decisions to enrich itself at the expense of wise, long-term libertarian decisions. The Constitution enshrined the right of the states to do precisely that, and that attitude simply morphed from state to federal level in 1937.

    2. “This article misses the point that although the _federal_ government was restrained by the Constitution, the state governments were not.”

      Either you are badly informed or you’re trying some bit of sophistry here:
      “Article VI, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution provides that the “? Constitution, and the Laws of the United States ? shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” This Supremacy Clause has come to mean that the national government, in exercising any of the powers enumerated in the Constitution, must prevail over any conflicting or inconsistent state exercise of power. The federal preemption doctrine is a judicial response to the conflict between federal and state legislation. When it is clearly established that a federal law preempts a state law, the state law must be declared invalid.”
      http://legal-dictionary.thefre…..Local+Laws

      1. That is true as far as it goes, but the power of the federal Congress to act was extremely circumscribed, and the Bill of Rights was directed squarely at the federal Congress as a series of restraints. Furthermore, the Commerce Clause was originally interpreted extremely narrowly to prevent Congress from exercising the kind of broad authority it now exercises in the name of “Commerce.” Have you read Akhil Amar’s excellent analysis of the original Constitution in “America’s Constitution” and “The Bill of Rights”? I’m afraid I can’t reproduce his research and analysis in 1500 characters, but it is a very accessible historical analysis of what the Constitution was actually meant to do.

        1. I’ll look for it, but it sounds like a “clever” bit of interpretation.
          For instance, your claim that federal action was ‘extremely circumscribed’ in no way matches any history I’ve read. Regarding the Commerce Clause, that was no failure of the Constitution; it was one of the worst bits of work by the Supremes.

          1. Amar relies heavily and appropriately on contemporaneous writings by the authors of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. His historiography is widely regarded as outstanding. The Commerce Clause was indeed later butchered by the Supreme Court to accommodate the authority claimed by the Congress in the 1930s, but that was hardly the original intent of the framers.

          2. Don’t put all that blame on the Sup. Ct., for the courts can adjudicate only within what’s litigated. Someone litigated to wangle that power for Congress; the most the Sup. Ct. could do was to accede to that interpret’n, which is the most they can ever do. So blame Congress for pretending to power they should’ve known they didn’t have.

  5. I think it’s significant that we celebrate the Fourth of July, the day we said we were free because we said we were free, rather than the day the Treaty of Paris was signed wherein our erstwhile King “granted” us our freedom or the day the Constitution was signed wherein the nation we have was properly formed. America was formed by the Declaration, not by formal rules or by assent to recognition.

    That, more than anything, suggests that America is not so much a nation or a people but an idea. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” Would those words be any less true if we had lost the Revolution? Are those words not true for all men everywhere, in Cuba and North Korea as much as in Connecticut and North Dakota? If you believe in the sovereignty of the individual before even God Almighty in this wise, I’d say you’re an American no matter where you call home.

    1. And if you don’t believe this, well, fuck off, slaver.

  6. My one great sorrow regarding the Constitution has to do with the concept of “rights”. Defining freedom in discrete ‘lumps’ allows statists to presume they are ‘things’ granted by the state rather than inherent in humanity.
    When a human is born, it has total freedom; it may do anything it is physically capable of doing. Since humans evolved as social animals, nearly all societies have found it wise to institute rules/customs regarding using physical violence on another or taking their property by force; hence the limitations on total freedom.
    But that does not leave the remainder as “rights”; I have no right to eat a hot-dog at the ball park, I have the freedom to do that and most anything I chose, and none of those activities are granted by a government.

    1. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments were originally meant to address this issue, at least as they were originally conceived as a restraint against the federal Congress. Unfortunately, the Tenth Amendment left ambiguous which powers were reserved to the “States” and which to the “People.” And there seems to have been no clear agreement that the Fourteenth Amendment was meant to enforce the Ninth and Tenth Amendments against the states themselves, leaving them free to engage in ridiculous behavior like regulating the working hours of bakers. (See Lochner v. New York; the Supreme Court attempted to kludge a solution to this problem by beating it over the head with the Due Process Clause, but that effort was rightly ridiculed later as being an utter mangling of the meaning of “due process.”)

    2. Yep, that’s one of my pet peeves, right next to people calling Hitler a monster, people referring to Constitutional rights as rights given to you by the Constitution. It says right there that Congress shall make no law infringing the right, it’s an implicit acknowledgement that the right comes from somewhere other than the Constitution. So where do these rights come from? I’d suggest that “endowed by their Creator” line in the Declaration is instructive – whether you believe you were created by God or Nature or an alien scientist in a computer lab, it’s the fact that you exist that creates the basis for your rights. And the Declaration said “all men”, not just Americans, those rights are basic human rights, not civil rights or mere privileges.

  7. “In 1895, Congress passed an income tax. The Supreme Court said, no, the Constitution does not give you the power to do that, and struck the income tax down. Eventually, politicians and state legislatures amended the Constitution to allow the tax. But at least they had to go through proper constitutional procedures and get a two-thirds vote.”

    The above claim is a gross exaggeration (at best, and at worst is just not wrong, but not even wrong) of Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Company, 157 U.S. 429 (1895).

    The SCOTUS struck down the income portion of the 1895 revenue act because of an income levied upon rent monies that the court believed to be fruit from the tree of property and therefore property and as property Congress was obligated to apportion the tax but the revenue act was not an apportioned tax.

    The Sixteenth Amendment does not “allow” any new tax nor was any new burden placed upon the people. What it did was clarify to the courts and the people that when Congress passes a tax without regard to apportionment or any census of enumeration that that tax should be viewed as an indirect tax where it “inherently belonged”. (Stanton v. Baltic Mining (1916).

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