December 15, 2015
Americans are very fond of saying they know their “rights”! But how many of us truly know why we have those “rights” or how these “rights” are the foundation of what all Americans hold dear?
We live in a nation of laws under the principle of the rule of law. We accept governance and control our government through an amazingly adaptable document, the American Constitution. Our modern nation and its laws must work within the rules of the Constitution, first ratified in the original draft at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, 1787.
This 229-year-old framework on which the world’s first modern democracy was founded has survived and thrived because its framers established a way to change the Constitution through a process called amending. Of all the “rights” and liberties Americans cherish – including free speech and religion, bearing arms and the right to a fair trial by their peers – none of these appeared in the first draft of our beloved Constitution of 1787.
This gross oversight of a clear declaration of citizen’s rights was responded to by James Madison (the author of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution a.k.a. the Bill of Rights). Madison was responding to calls from several states for greater constitutional controls on governmental power and potential abuse. He was strongly influenced by the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason. Both men felt our newly minted Constitution needed a clear, strong set of revisions (amendments) that would codify in law what “rights” every citizen, native or nationalized would be guaranteed and could never be taken away without a vote of 2/3 of the states.
This was achieved on December 15, 1791, when the states ratified James Madison’s draft of 10 specific rights as a collective group: the Bill of Rights we still depend on to protect us as citizens of the United States.
Remember The Bill of Rights and its origins on December 15, Bill of Rights Day, during these dangerous and trying times, which, like those of the past, threaten to limit our precious liberties and freedoms. The Bill of Rights written by Madison was supported by the founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, who wrote, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
Our freedoms and “rights” are what it means to be an American. They are who we’ve been, who we are and who we will always be!
Learn more and find activities and lesson plans at the Bill of Rights Institute
Ernie Krumm of the Krumm Agency is a social studies teacher at Belleville High School with degrees in history, geography, curriculum and secondary education. He has been a Meemic agent for 17 years and a member for 31. www.KrummAgency.com