Notes on the Bill of Rights

Some framers of the Constitution opposed adding a Bill of Rights, but Thomas Jefferson said in a letter to James Madison, Dec. 20, 1787, “A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, & what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences.”

In his letter to Alexander Donald, February 7, 1788, Jefferson again expressed his desire for a Bill of Rights. He wrote: “By a declaration of rights, I mean one which shall stipulate freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of commerce against monopolies, trial by juries in all cases, no suspensions of the habeas corpus, no standing armies. These are fetters against doing evil, which no honest government should decline.”

James Madison originally objected to adding a Bill of Rights. Later, in his Speech to Congress proposing Constitutional Amendments, Madison argued in its favor saying, “I think we should obtain the confidence of our fellow citizens, in proportion as we fortify the rights of the people against the encroachments of the government.”

In the same speech, Madison specified: “The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.”

He continued, “The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor from applying to the legislature by petitions, or remonstrances for redress of their grievances.”

Both Jefferson and Madison described the Bill of Rights as the public’s protection against governmental injustice and dishonesty. Today we’re seeing frontal assaults on certain fundamental civil liberties, including habeas corpus, freedom of the press and the freedom to peaceably assemble. Now is a good time to remember Jefferson’s admonition that the provisions in the Bill of Rights are ones no just government should refuse, and no honest government should decline.

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One Response to Notes on the Bill of Rights

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