By: Nancy Salvato
The founding documents, which include the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, capture the philosophy and political thinking that drove the Founders and Framers of our country. Afraid of losing the freedom we gained from a tyrannical government, the Federalists wanted a stronger (albeit “limited”) federal government to ensure our country’s sovereignty and ability to “keep our republic.” Afraid that a strengthened federal government would abuse its power, as those with governing authority are prone to do, the Antifederalists wanted not only to limit the authority we ceded to a federal government, but to add a Bill of Rights, to guarantee our rights against encroachment by a government which didn’t understand or respect the sovereignty of the people.
Alexander Hamilton argued vehemently against the need for a Bill of Rights. Because the federal government’s powers were enumerated, there was no concern of over-reach. We were only yielding a specified amount of authority and what we didn’t hand over was ours to keep. The Antifederalists, looking to history, were fervent in their arguments that our rights needed to be specified on paper, so that there would be no question about what belonged to us. John Adams, though a Federalist, captures this sentiment so well when he says, “We are a nation of laws, not men.” By writing down our laws, we can prevent men from impulsively reacting to public demagoguery or from despotic tendencies. It is no surprise then that the Framers capitulated on these demands and made good the promise of a Bill of Rights.
There is a difference between the power to require of people certain behaviors and rights to behave without fear of reprisal. This is the balance the Framers sought and the balance which must be maintained in order to provide a climate of freedom and security. Though we are mostly familiar with the 1st amendment freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition, the 2nd amendment right to bear arms, and the 5th amendment right to a jury and to remain silent, the people, who are the ruled and the rulers alike, should understand what compelled the Framers to include the 9th and 10th amendments.
Amendment IX states, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
Amendment X states, “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.”
Surely, the Framers hoped to assuage the fears of a populace intimately familiar with tyrannical practices such as illegal searches and seizures, unreasonable punishments, and other abuses (many listed in the Declaration of Independence). However, two concerns were not evident in any of the first source materials left behind from our founding, perhaps they weren’t even considered, but they should be. The first being preciseness of language. If we go back to Hamilton’s belief that the powers not specifically enumerated in the Constitution belong to the people, we wouldn’t be having any discussion over what specifically is meant or not meant by the rights listed in the first ten amendments. The second is that there is no right “not to be offended.” When we bow to political correctness and prevent certain forms of free speech in certain venues, we hobble the very freedoms for which we fought to maintain. It’s that simple.
The Framers were concerned that we respect minority rights and this includes minority views or views that may offend some. It is in this way that we honor our first amendment freedoms. It is power that is limited, specifically that which is granted to our intentionally limited government.
Copyright ©2014 Nancy Salvato
Nancy Salvato is the Director of Education and the Constitutional Literacy Program for Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan research and educational project whose mission is to re-introduce the American public to the basic elements of our constitutional heritage while providing non-partisan, fact-based information on relevant socio-political issues important to our country. She is a graduate of the National Endowment for the Humanities’ National Academy for Civics and Government. She is the author of “Keeping a Republic: An Argument for Sovereignty.” She also serves as a Senior Editor for NewMediaJourna.usl and a contributing writer to BigGovernment.com and FamilySecurityMatters.org.