which on this date in 1791 went into effect when Virginia became the 10th of the then 14 states to ratify 10 of the original 12 proposed by the first Congress.
It is worth remembering that without a commitment by Madison to a Bill of Rights, Virginia almost certainly would NOT have ratified the Constitution. After all, George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, had refused in Philadelphia to sign the Constitution precisely because it lacked a Bill of Rights.
I am aware that some think the rights as expressed in that 1789 document have been distorted over time, or whittled away, especially by Supreme Courts past and present. I would not necessarily disagree. Still, the document remains an important marker, like having a huge elephant in your living room. It reminds us that our Founders recognized the need to clearly delineate lines beyond which governments should not be able to go.
And perhaps it is relevant when considering this document to consider words from an earlier document, from Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration:
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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.Please keep reading.
Jefferson and Madison had a disagreement. Madison worried that to list rights would imply that any right not listed was not guaranteed to the people. Jefferson insisted that rights had to be affirmed and protected from the government.
Their discussion occurred in the context of state constitutions written in 1776 and soon thereafter which had explicit declarations of rights, beginning with that of Mason in the Virginia Declaration adopted weeks before the Declaration of Independence. In the aftermath of the abuses of the King listed in the Declaration of Independence, it is not at all surprising to find specific rights listed in the first 10 Amendments. Think for example of the prohibition of forced quartering of troops, which was an issue in the occupation of Boston after the 1773 Tea Party and which is explicitly addressed in the 3rd Amendment. Many of the rights had a history of hundreds of years of protection, beginning with the right to trial by jury in the Magna Carta, tracing things through the Petition of Right signed by Charles I in the earlier portion of his disputes with Parliament, the English Bill of Rights support of which was required for William and Mary of Orange to assume the British throne, on to Mason in 1776. There were other examples - the protection of free exercise in the Northwest Ordinance, a document passed by a national legislature under the Articles of Confederation Virginia's Statute of Religious Freedom (drafted by Jefferson and pushed through the state by Madison), explicit Bills of Rights such as Article I of the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution.
Madison decided that he could protect against those who would say rights not listed were not held by the people. That is the purpose of the 9th Amendment and its idea of unenumerated rights:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.I am a maximalist when it comes to the Bill of Rights, especially of those contained in the 1st Amendment. I wish rather than worrying so much about crime and security and order more of our political leaders would focus on the intent of the Bill of Rights and understand that our security is best maintained when we insist upon the protections of the Bill of Rights, explicit and implicit.
221 years ago the Bill of Rights went into effect.
I think that is worthy of taking some time to remember.