Friday, July 03, 2009

Independence Day Reading

by Dick Mac

There are some pieces of writing, documents, that have dramatically changed the course of civilization. One of my faves, and one that seems to have fallen out of favor in the past decade, is the Bill of Rights. Guaranteeing these fundamental rights is what made the formation of the United States so unique.

Bill of Rights

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II
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.

Amendment III
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Our founding fathers instructed us to meet regularly in Constitutional Conventions to address these and other rights, and to ensure that our government was functioning properly. You need not be a right-winger or a left-winger, or a dullard, to know that our government is broken. I believe our failure to convene Constitutional Conventions on a regular basis has led to this.

Now that a ruling class has been so firmly established for two centuries, and we are trapped in a single-party system, the notion of a Constitutional Convention seems quaint, and I fear would be ineffective. Still, the founding fathers had a great idea.

Other documents worth remembering or investigating are The Magna Carta, The United States Constitution, and The Manifesto of the Communist Party, among many others.

Documents like these are what shaped Western Civilization, for better or worse. If you haven't read them, or if it's been a while, I recommend them.

1 comment:

AKA Ted Faigle said...

Not to disparage your noble sentiment but the founders actually provided a number of ways to address concerns over whether the government is functioning properly with the idea of a constitutional convention being the most extreme, last-resort provision that should NEVER be used as a routine.

Article V states that Congress, "on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States or by Conventions in three fourths thereof.."

It has been widely recognized that calling a constitutional convention at any point would be very risky indeed since it could result in a far worse situation than any that can be imagined while our current Constitution is still in force.

Since the procedural rules that would pertain to a constitutional convention are nowhere spelled out, a worst case scenario would be that a majority vote at such a convention could declare the entire Constitution void. This move would render moot even the Article V requirement of ratification by 3/4s of the States.

The need for a constitutional convention should only be felt at a time when we are hopelessly desperate to circumvent all the other ways of changing things or when we have much more of an enlightened national consensus about how the current Constitution may be changed to serve the people better. This, I am sure, is a long long way off.

Happy Independence Day though!