There’s more than a touch of irony in the fact that the man credited by many with trampling the Bill of Rights to remake America was also the man who declared the first Bill of Rights Day. History is full of ironies and strange coincidences. That President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared the first Bill of Rights Day is surely one of them.
Instead of a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the passage of the first ten amendments to our Constitution, the mood on December 15th, 1941, was of somber resolve. The nation was at war. Thousands of Americans had been killed or wounded the week before; our Pacific fleet decimated. This year, the nation is fighting a very different kind of war, and while we have suffered thousands of casualties and continue to lose both soldiers and civilians to an enemy that attacks us at home and abroad, this year’s Bill of Rights Day wasn’t celebrated somberly; it was largely ignored. We ignore it at our peril.
The Bill of Rights was designed to protect We the People from federal overreach. In a 1787 letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences.” But as the CATO Institute’s Tim Lynch pointed out last week, nearly all the rights enumerated in 1791 are under assault in 2015.
Lynch provided “a disturbing snapshot…but not one the Framers of the Constitution would have found altogether surprising. They would sometimes refer to written constitutions as mere ‘parchment barriers,’” but “nevertheless concluded that having a written constitution was better than having nothing at all.”
Better than nothing at all, but as gun owners know, efforts to all-but-nullify our Second Amendment gun rights through specific bans and restrictions are a modern fact of life. While the Third Amendment seems safe for now, Progressives work to weaken the Founder’s wall between citizens’ rights and a rapacious government by focusing on the other nine. For instance:
First Amendment: Freedom of speech is under assault nationwide. College students demand “safe zones” and protection against speech they deem “hurtful.” (Do they not teach civics in government schools?) Last month a man was arrested for the “crime” of passing out pamphlets about jury nullification in front of a Michigan courthouse. He faces heavy fines and imprisonment.
Fourth Amendment: Anyone who believes they have a right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures hasn’t gone through a TSA security line recently. Worse, SWAT raids for supposed drug offences have killed and injured innocent Americans, including a 19-month-old severely disfigured when an officer threw a flashbang grenade into his playpen. (No drugs were found in the home.)
Fifth Amendment: The Kelo eminent domain case puts the lie to the idea that private property shall not be taken “for public use without just compensation.” And the EPA uses regulation to so limit property rights as to be considered a taking.
Space limitations require that we skip to the end, to the Tenth Amendment. Since FDR’s time, the Federal government has usurped so much power not originally delegated to it that it now exercises de facto control over health care and insurance industries, education policy, and state criminal prosecutions. What was reserved to the States and the People has been slowly relinquished by the States and the People, like jewels traded for trinkets.
The silver lining to this cloud is that at least we don’t celebrate a “Second Bill of Rights Day.” In 1944 FDR proposed such a thing in his State of the Union Message, declaring “In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established…”
FDR’s “rights” started with “a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation” and included the right to a home, medical care, recreation, and a decent living. Never asked, of course, were the questions, “At what cost?” and “Paid for by whom?”
The Progressive wish list hasn’t changed much in 70 years. The irony hasn’t, either. This “second bill of rights” gives to the government “rights” to use against the people. What the Founders gave us, the Progressives would take away…if we let them.
Ken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org