The Declaration of the United States of America began long before it's signing on July 4, 1776. Second only to the introduction of Jesus Christ to the world, the idea of true liberty ignited the brightest flame witnessed in the history of society. Liberty was the compelling and pivotal principle that drove the intentional action which birthed our nation. The words of the Declaration remain, urging immigrants from around the globe and paving the way for access to the clear benefits of individual autonomy, freedom of choice. Our Constitution documents these rare ideals and attributes that continue to power and protect our American way of life to this day. It begins as follows:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.
Read the 27 grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence to understand the struggle the colonies faced with their governing system. We remain so blessed to have successfully united to form our Constitution of the United States. Words of its preamble follow below.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
The basis of our success as a nation is found in a single document, which clearly and ultimately defines why Americans persevered and how, should we choose it, we can continue to do so today. When we abide by the Constitution, we promote individual autonomy, innovation, fortitude, and discourse that allow us to always find our way. Today, as we celebrate July 4, our Independence Day, to honor the sacrifices that protect our way of life embedded in the basis of the Constitution, it makes sense to reflect upon the very important words that provision our freedom.
The Bill of Rights
One of the principal points of contention between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was the lack of an enumeration of basic civil rights in the Constitution. Many Federalists argued, as in Federalist No. 84, that the people surrendered no rights in adopting the Constitution. In several states, however, 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. Below are just the first ten amendments.
Opinion: The first 10 amendments are foundational to our ability to secure the provisions embodied in all proceeding Amendments.
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 keep and 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 they are charged, and to confront the witnesses brought by the government. The amendment also provides the accused the right to compel testimony from witnesses, and to legal representation.
The Seventh Amendment provides that civil cases also be tried 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.
Visit: whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/the-constitution/ to discover more. For a complete accounting of the Constitution of the United States including an interpretation and view into the minds of the framers, visit the Federalist Papers.