Once again a significant anniversary has come and gone with little fanfare, definitely less than is deserved.This past Monday, Dec.15, marked the 217th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. It was on that date in 1791 when our Founding Fathers took another baby step in their attempt to "secure the blessings of liberty" as promised in the Preamble to the Constitution that had been ratified four years earlier.
Many thought at the time that those first 10 amendments were unnecessary. They thought that since the Constitution limited the powers of government, that neither president nor Congress could intrude on what the Bill of Rights guaranteed.
Perhaps they were the idealists. Their reasoning was correct. In the free society they sought to establish, they knew that government could only do what was expressly permitted.
Those who wanted the Bill of Rights were more realistic, knowing that power corrupts and that those in power, overtime at least, would seek to intrude on the rights of man. In an attempt to prevent that intrusion, they gave the country something that was to guarantee those rights, not grant, but guarantee.
Considering what has happened in the last 217 years - both within government and within the general population - that second group was right. It's too bad they couldn't do something to prevent confusion and apathy in the population that has led to a feeding frenzy of those in power seeking more power.
But that's nothing new. In 1960, former Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote, "Today most Americans seem to have forgotten the ancient evils which forced their ancestors to flee to this new country and to form a government stripped of old powers used to oppress them. But the Americans who supported the Revolution and the adoption of our Constitution knew firsthand the dangers of tyrannical governments. They were familiar with the long existing practice of English persecutions of people wholly because of their religious or political beliefs. They knew that many accused of such offenses had stood, helpless to defend themselves, before biased legislators and judges."
In that piece, written for the New York University Law Review, Justice Black sited examples throughout history - international, colonial and U.S. history - of governmental usurpation. He said that the demand for the Bill of Rights was led by a fear of both religious and political persecution should legislative power be left unrestrained.
The War on Terror has led to a disregard for habeas corpus and to the use of torture. The War on Drugs has led to a disregard for the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. John McCain and his McCain-Feingold Bill intruded into the rights of political free speech.
And far too many people - in and out of office - want to do away with the guarantee of a right to keep and bear arms.
Perhaps Justice Black can shed some light on the need to retain the bill.
"I cannot agree with those who think of the Bill of Rights as an 18th century straitjacket, unsuited for this age. It is old, but not all old things are bad. The evils it guards against are not only old, they are with us now, they exist today "