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Wanted: The Rediscovery of America

SOLO Press Release—Wanted: The Rediscovery of America

Lindsay Perigo

December 15, 2007

This weekend marks the anniversaries of two astonishing milestones in American (and world) history—milestones that tragically, are likely to go unremarked.

On December 15, 1791, Congress adopted the Bill of Rights, the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution. These included the following, whose significance we are lucky enough to be able to see as self-evident:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. ...

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

The Bill of Rights was the upshot of drawn-out controversy over whether the Constitution on its own afforded sufficient designation of, and protection for, individual rights. George Mason, author of the seminal Virginia Declaration of Rights, was foremost among those who believed it didn't; on the other side Alexander Hamilton opposed the Amendments on the grounds that to list specific rights was to compromise their "unalienable" status. In the event, the Bill of Rights, as proposed by James Madison, was ratified 216 years ago tomorrow, with the following preamble:

"The Conventions of a number of the States having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: ..."

For good measure, Amendment 1X stated:

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are all watersheds in the history of human liberty, notes SOLO Principal Lindsay Perigo.

"The enormity of these achievements cannot be overestimated. Whatever the extent to which the American experiment has gone off, these documents glow and inspire in mankind's long dark night of tyranny.

"Somehow it took another 74 years for there to be an Amendment prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude.

"Somehow, in blatant contravention of other Amendments, a new one was allowed whereby 'The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration' (Amendment XV1, 1913), thus beginning an America-wide descent into ... 'involuntary servitude'!

"Americans should be mindful of this weekend's other great anniversary—that of the Boston Tea Party, December 16, 1773. "Radicals" threw 342 chests of tea from a British East India Company ship into the Boston Harbor in protest against a tax on this and other imported items imposed by the British Parliament. The mighty Empire responded by imposing military rule in Massachusetts ... and the rest is indeed history, including the aforementioned events and documents!

"What would the rebels, so incensed by a tax so minor in comparison, have made of Amendment XV1? Why, in the land of the free, does government continue to gain ground and liberty to yield? Why have Americans become so complacent about the 'long train of abuses and usurpations' emanating not from London but from Washington? Why do Americans no longer care about liberty?

"The answer, of course, lies in philosophy. And this weekend affords an opportune moment to reiterate the questions," Perigo concludes. "Nothing less than the rediscovery of America is at stake."


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