The generations that claimed independence from the King of England and his empire did so because they understood that all men are created equal, and that all men – all human beings – have rights that are inalienable and intrinsic and timeless, rights granted by the Creator. Chief among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The Declaration goes on to explain why we have government at all. It’s a simple reason. Governments are instituted among men, by men, and derive power from the consent of the governed for one reason: To secure these God-given natural rights.
Let me repeat – government exists only to secure our rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
So what happened since then?
First – the Constitution itself, when offered at the end of that long hot summer in Philadelphia was very much the work, to use Bastiat’s phrase, of cunning and artful political leaders. Their assigned task was to improve upon the Articles of Confederation – specifically addressing issues of central government funding, and of interstate standardization of trade and tariffs.
Instead, the doors were locked, the Articles – which had functioned well and had survived and thrived for a dozen years, were discarded, and a document establishing a central and unified government for the 13 colonies was drafted.
The 9th and 10th amendments were demanded as a weak remedy to a Constitution that seemed to grant ultimate power to a distant capitol. These two amendments were demanded by the Anti-Federalists to ensure that the Republic was not a Kingdom in disguise; that the President and the Congress were not a King and his court all over again.
That these amendments were written on paper did not limit them. As we see in the wording of the 9th Amendment – this enumeration of rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people. Imagine, a government that does not deny our rights, and beyond that, does not disparage, belittle, mock, and laugh at them!
The daily abuses of the Department of Homeland Security, the American presidents’ kill lists and free speech zones, and 30 thousand drones flying over our country operated by local, state and federal law enforcement and spy agencies don’t seem to fit in or under the Constitution. The many property abuses we face every day, from illegal searches of our papers, computers, and phones to actual takings and condemnations of land and property, tell us in no uncertain terms that the federal government is disparaging our natural rights. It tells me our modern government has nothing but contempt for our life, liberty, and property. It has nothing but contempt for, as Bastiat defines it, our life, our faculties, our production and our individuality.
Where are we today, 221 years after the Bill of Rights was made the law of the land right here in Richmond? We have a million pages of laws, and less liberty than any generation before us. We have more taxation and less representation than any previous generation. But we do have a rallying cry – written into the supreme law of the land, a cry for liberty and prosperity.
The Bill of Rights is not an agreement, a contract or a conditional grant. It is a statement of a common and factual natural law. Men are born free. We are born free. We are born free, to live free, to create and produce freely as we are led and blessed to create and produce, to care for and protect our own property, our environment and our families, to trade peaceably with others, and to worship and express our individuality, our faith, and our liberty in a thousand ways. Government exists by our consent, and serves only to protect our rights.
I believe the Bill of Rights is the natural companion to the Declaration of Independence. May both of these documents inspire us all to seize the day, and live free. May the Bill of Rights guide us in our lives and work, focus our prayers, broaden our dreams, and lead us to end the tyranny, and restore our badly damaged Republic.