Your issue of Sept. 25 carries a
story under the headline "New Fight Begun for Bill of Rights." Beneath the
headline is an imposing list of dignitaries said to have signed an "open
letter to the American people" released by "Americans for Traditional
Liberties" asking a Sentate subcommittee on constitutional rights to
"probe every area of constitutional violations boldly."
It is stated: "The open letter
noted that the first Congress adopted the ten amendments comprising the
Bill of Rights on Sept. 25, 1789." The story further relates that the
open letter called on a Senate subcommittee to propose "the necessary
legislation to bulwark our basic rights."
That news item disturbs and
frightens. The very fact that so many should display so much ignorance
In the first place, the first
Congress never "adopted the ten amendments." The first Congress adopted
a resolution requesting the President to submit twelve amendments to the
various states for adoption. That resolution was adopted on Sept. 24,
1789--not Sept. 25 (Annals of Congress, Vol. 1, p. 948). Ten of those
amendments were ratified by the necessary ten states and they went into
effect on Dec. 15, 1791, the day Virginia, the tenth state, adopted
Purpose of Appeal
That people who purport to be
learned and who purport to be leaders of thought in American should
sign their names to a letter calling upon a subcommittee of the United
States Senate to prepare legislation affecting our Bill of Rights is
Our Bill of Rights is an incomplete
catalog of rights that inhere in people. Those rights inhered in our people
before the Constitution and before the Revolution. It was to shield those
rights from kings and parliamentary governments that the Revolution was
fought. If the Congress may now legislate them in or legislate them out, or
may enlarge or diminish them by legislation, then they are not rights
inhering in the people; they are mere legislative permits.
What the "Americans for Traditional
Liberties" has done in its "open letter to the American people" is to
invite the Congress to disregard the plain language of the Bill of Rights.
The very First Amendment says that "Congress shall make no law respecting
an establishment of religion," etc. The Second Amendment contains the
words "the rights of the people * * * shall not be infringed." The Third
Amendment likewise states something that Congress may not do. The Fourth
Amendment reiterates that "the rights of the people * * * shall not be
The Ninth and Tenth Amendments
seem never to be read, much less heeded. The Ninth says: "The enumeration
in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be contrued to deny or
disparage others retained by the people." The most valuable of all
unenumerated rights denied or disparaged by "Americans for Traditional
Liberties" is the God-given right to be let alone.
The amendments themselves proclaim that
the rights that they state are the gifts of God--not governments. The
amendments themselves proclaim that they are beyond the reach of the
Congress of the United States. They proclaim the same basic and fundamental
concept proclaimed in the first three paragraphs of the Virginia Bill of
Rights of June, 1776, and as was echoed in a later restatement of it in the
preamble to the Declaration of Independence.
Our Bill of Rights was never a
legislative "bill." It was a declaration by the people themselves. Rulers
opposed it bitterly. Only Mason and Gerry championed it in Philadelphia
against the unanimous vote of the states there represented. Governments don't
give rights. They impose burdens.
Our Bill of Rights constitutions a
cluster of little foxholes of liberty ground into the hard cold face of
history by helpless men for a shield against the lash of tyrants. They are
the result of distrust of power and distrust of men in power. They are a
recognition of Lord Acton's statement of a truth eternal--"power corrupts,
and absolute power corrupts absolutely."