Daily blog: It’s January 2, and I have prepped my RV for the 354-mile journey north to Washington, D.C. on the 5th; it will take approximately six hours. A trip that took days in 1787 when the not yet ratified United States Constitution was signed.
The process set out in the Constitution for its ratification provided for much popular debate in the States. And had to be ratified by nine of the thirteen State legislatures; unanimity was not required. During the Constitution’s debate, two factions emerged: the Federalists, who supported adoption, and the Anti-Federalists, who opposed it.
James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay set out an eloquent defense of the new Constitution in what came to be called the Federalist Papers, which remain an invaluable resource for understanding some of the framers’ intentions for the Constitution. The most famous of the articles are No. 10, which warns of the dangers of factions and advocates a large republic, and No. 51, which explains the structure of the Constitution, its checks and balances, and how it protects the rights of the people.
The States began the ratification process, with some debating more intensely than others. Delaware was the first to ratify, on December 7, 1787. And Rhode Island the last on May 29, 1790.
One of the principal points of contention between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was the lack of an enumeration of fundamental civil rights in the Constitution. Many Federalists argued that the people surrendered no rights in adopting the Constitution.
In several States, the ratification debate hinged on the adoption of a bill of rights. The solution was known as the Massachusetts Compromise, in which four states ratified the Constitution but at the same time sent recommendations for amendments to the Congress.
James Madison introduced 12 amendments to the First Congress in 1789. Ten of these would go on to become what we now consider to be the Bill of Rights. One was never passed, while another dealing with Congressional salaries was not ratified until 1992 when it became the 27th Amendment. Based on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the English Bill of Rights, the writings of the Enlightenment, and the rights defined in the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights contains rights that many today consider to be fundamental to America.
The First Amendment provides that Congress make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. It protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Second Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms.
The Third Amendment prohibits the Government from quartering troops in private homes, a major grievance during the American Revolution.
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. The Government may not conduct any searches without a warrant, and such warrants must be issued by a judge and based on probable cause.
The Fifth Amendment provides that citizens not be subject to criminal prosecution and punishment without due process. Citizens may not be tried on the same set of facts twice and are protected from self-incrimination (the right to remain silent). The Amendment also establishes the power of eminent domain, ensuring that private property is not seized for public use without just compensation.
The Sixth Amendment assures the right to a speedy trial by a jury of one’s peers, to be informed of the crimes with which one is charged, and to confront the witnesses brought forward by the Government. The Amendment also provides the accused the right to compel testimony from witnesses, as well as the right to legal representation.
The Seventh Amendment provides that civil cases preserve the right to trial by jury.
The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishments.
The Ninth Amendment states that the list of rights enumerated in the Constitution is not exhaustive and that the people retain all rights not enumerated.
The Tenth Amendment assigns all powers not delegated to the United States, or prohibited to the States, to either the States or to the people.