What you might not know about the Bill of Rights

Today is Bill of Rights Day. Seriously, it is, declared so by President Obama and similarly proclaimed on every Dec. 15 by every president since FDR first did so in 1941.

Now the bad news: You don’t get the day off. But let’s have some fun with it on the slim possibility that, like me, you consider constitutional history fun. Here goes:

We think of the U.S. Constitution as about rights, but mostly it isn’t. It is about the powers of the federal government that the framers created, and it is a fundamental rulebook for the operation of that government.

The 55 (or so, they kept coming and going from Philadelphia during the Constitutional Convention summer of 1787) white men who drafted the Constitution didn’t write the Bill of Rights (hereafter “BR”). And most of them opposed including any such section in their document.

On Sept. 12, 1787, the Constitution was basically drafted and the framers were considering small, last-minute changes, when Virginia delegate George Mason, himself the chief author of the BR of Virginia, gained the floor and argued that “it would give great quiet to the people” if the Constitution was prefaced with a BR.

George Mason
University of Chicago Library
George Mason

According to the best records of the debate that day, only one other framer (Elbridge Gerry of Mass.) agreed. The motion was voted down 10 states to 0. (Mason and Gerry couldn’t deliver their own state delegations for the proposition. Just 10 of the 13 states were present and voting at the time.) Mason and Gerry, at least partly over this issue, decided not to sign the BR-less Constitution. (Mason, according to James Madison’s notes, said he would “rather chop off his right hand” than sign the document without a BR.)

Why did the framers reject Mason’s idea? One likely reason is very human. It came up too late. They were tired, preparing to go home, sick of Philly where they had been for 16 weeks. The Mason project would certainly have required they postpone adjournment for some considerable time.

A second reason gets to the often-overlooked essence of what had happened during those weeks. The framers were (small f) federalists. They favored a strong national government, much stronger than the weak one that preceded the Constitution (the one delineated by the Articles of Confederation). The real states-righters had either boycotted the convention (as Patrick Henry had done) or left early in protest (as the New York delegates, other than Alexander Hamilton, had done) when they realized that the convention was dominated by big-government federalists.

Of those who stayed to the end, plenty of evidence indicates that many of them — especially “Father of the Constitution” Madison, and Hamilton, who was the most radical federalist — would like to have gone further. They knew that a stronger government would make the population nervous and might wreck their chances of getting their draft ratified. So they had held back and put together the strongest federal scheme that they thought could get ratified. In that frame of mind, adding a long section specifying all the powers that the national government didn’t have was an unappealing prospect.

Jefferson weighs in
But the decision not to include a BR caused trouble almost immediately, starting with the reaction of Thomas Jefferson. Polls often indicate that most Americans think Jefferson was the chief author of the Constitution. In fact, he was in France (as U.S. ambassador) all that summer, receiving updates by snail mail from his friend and protégé Madison.

As soon as the Constitutional draft was finalized, Madison sent Jefferson a copy for his reaction. Jefferson’s  biggest objection — described in a letter back to Madison — was “the omission of a bill of rights providing clearly and without the aid of sophisms for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction against monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws and trials by jury.”

In my own Bicentennial book on the Constitution, (from which this piece borrows shamelessly) I wrote that that passage is so strong and clear an advocacy for a Bill of Rights that it almost makes a case for Jefferson, in absentia, as the father of the BR.

But George Mason — whose role was direct and more public than Jefferson’s — might have the stronger claim to that title. Soon after the convention adjourned and the draft — without Mason’s signature — began to circulate, Mason published an essay complaining that the draft contained “no Declaration of Rights, and the laws of the general [federal] government being paramount to the laws and constitutions of the several States, the Declarations of Rights in the states are no security.”

‘Conditional’ ratification
The absence of a Bill of Rights became the paramount argument used against the Constitution during the long campaign for ratification. Patrick Henry (yes, the “give me liberty or give me death” Virginian of 1775) took up the Mason argument and put it more colorfully as he argued against ratification.

The truth is, Mason was truly concerned about what might happen to civil liberties without a BR. Patrick Henry had far more fundamental objections to the Constitution (for example, he did not believe that the federal government should have direct taxing power — as the Confederation government did not). But Henry recognized that the threat of a tyrannical national government, running roughshod over fundamental liberties of religion, speech and press, made the best argument with which to alarm 1788 America about the proposed new charter.

Henry, the preeminent Virginia politician/tactician of the time, conceived a strategy to defeat the draft without directly calling for “no” votes. (After all, George Washington himself, the greatest man of the time, had chaired the Philadelphia convention and associated his enormous prestige with the project.)

So Henry asked his allies to seek a vote that would ratify the Constitution conditionally. The “condition” was the Constitution couldn’t take effect until it was amended to correct its flaws. The anti-federalists in each convention drafted their own list of changes that had to occur before their “ratification” could take effect.

The pro-ratification forces immediately realized that a conditional ratification was no ratification at all. Unless at least nine states ratified unconditionally (see Article VII), the first congressional and presidential elections could not be held and the new government could not begin operations and a new convention would have to be called to deal with changes to satisfy the “conditional” ratifications. Patrick Henry, who had been chosen as a Virginia delegate to the convention but had stayed away, saying he “smelt a rat,” would plan to attend the second convention seeking bigger changes than those represented by the BR.

The Federalist Papers
Madison and Hamilton led the ratification campaign and used the pseudonymous essays that became known as the “Federalist Papers” to advocate for ratification and to answer objections that were raised against the draft.

In Federalist #84, the second-to-last of the long series, Hamilton took head on the argument over the missing Bill of Rights, arguing that such an explicit list of powers that the government did not have — the power to censor the press or impose a religion, etc. — might actually backfire and render the federal government more powerful.

Without such amendments, Hamilton argued, it was clear that the new federal government had only those powers given to it by the Constitution itself and no others. If you added a list of powers that the national government didn’t have, it might create an implication that the government had all powers except for those that were explicitly reserved. For those of you haven’t read a Federalist Paper for a while, here’s a segment of Hamilton argument #84:

“Why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason, that the Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication, that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it was intended to be vested in the national government. This may serve as a specimen of the numerous handles which would be given to the doctrine of constructive powers, by the indulgence of an injudicious zeal for bills of rights.”

That argument didn’t work. What did work was a campaign promise. Nothing was going to satisfy Patrick Henry, but Madison told the more moderate skeptics that if they would support ratification of the document as it stood, the very first Congress would assemble a list of the suggested changes that had been proposed and he would use the amendment process of Article V to refer amendments to the states enshrining the various explicit guarantees of rights.

It worked. The ratification votes in Virginia and New York were extremely close (Virginia 89-79; New York 30-27) but the Constitution squeaked through and took effect as written.

Henry’s revenge
Madison had planned to go to Congress and there fulfill his promise. But Patrick Henry was the political boss of Virginia and the senators would be chosen by the Legislature. Henry arranged for Virginia to send two anti-federalists to the first Senate.

That forced Madison to run for popular election (a prospect he found most distasteful) to the House. And, not done torturing Madison, Henry arranged to put Madison’s home county into a district with several anti-federalist strongholds. But Madison, who had written to a friend that he hoped he could avoid doing anything that would have a whiff of “electioneering, which I despise,” had to campaign hard, including writing a letter to a local minister, intended for publication, expressing his strong support for an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion.

Madison won his seat and became the leading member of the first House of Representatives. And — in compliance with the promise he had made in so many ways (and notwithstanding the many arguments he had previously made against the necessity of a Bill of Rights) — just one month into the life of the first Congress, Madison rose to ask the House to consider a set of constitutional amendments securing basic liberties.

Madison proposed, and pushed through the House, 13 amendments. The Senate killed one of them (interestingly, it would have required the states to respect freedom of religion and expression; Madison argued that it was the most important one on the list). The other 12 were referred to the states for consideration. Patrick Henry opposed ratification, calling the amendments “guileful,” and saying they were designed to do no more than “lull suspicion.” And they did lull suspicion. Although the Virginia antifederalists were able to stall the process for two more years, they eventually ratified and 10 of the amendments took effect on this date in 1791, which makes today the 220th anniversary.

What we call the First Amendment was really  No. 3
If you were paying close attention, you noted in that last paragraph that, after the Senate killed one of Madison’s original 13 amendments, 12 were referred to the states. But the Bill of Rights consists of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. Two others failed of ratification, at least for a couple of centuries, and they were the first two on the list as referred to the states.

The long lost First Amendment (you’ll find the text, under “Article the first” on this link) is a mind-numbingly boring provision attempting to regulate how many members of the House there would be and how much population per district until certain thresholds are reached after which different numbers apply.

The long lost Second Amendment was simpler. Congress could not pass a pay raise for its own members that would take effect until after the next election. And that one has a fairly amazing (and very touching) history of its own that you may have missed unless you pay very close attention to the news.

Nowadays, most amendments are drafted with a provision requiring that they be ratified within a fixed time period, after which they go away. But Madison and the boys hadn’t thought about that and referred the first 12 amendments without such time limits. The original Amendment Two, for some reason that I do not know, failed to get enough ratifications in 1789-91, but stayed very slightly alive for 210 years. (Of course, the number of states required to ratify an amendment kept going up.) Very, very occasionally, especially when Congress voted itself a pay increase, someone would stumble upon it and it actually picked up two ratifications, one 80 years after it was proposed and one almost 100 years after that (Wyoming in 1978). But it still never expired. Then, quoting from a footnote to the online annotated Constitution: “

“In the early 1980’s, Gregory Watson, an aide to a Texas legislator, took up the proposed amendment’s cause. From 1983 to 1992, the requisite number of states ratified the amendment, and it was declared ratified on May 7, 1992”  74,003 days after it was first referred to the states.

It is now the 27th and both the oldest and the most recent amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Happy Bill of Rights Day.

The text of the Bill of Rights is here.

Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Ross Williams on 12/15/2011 - 11:46 am.

    There is nothing “mind-numbing” about the original first amendment. It simply sets limits on how many people a member of congress can represent with an ultimate maximum of 50,000. That would make the current size of Congress around 6000 members. Was that the founders “original intent”?

  2. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/15/2011 - 12:09 pm.

    Thanks for your article. How interesting that on this very anniversay date, the Congress should be debating a defense authorization bill that negates the rights guaranteed to those accused of a crime by Bill of Rights amendments 4,5 and 6.

    The wording of sections 1031 and 1032 authorize the military (!!!) to arrest anyone, US citizen or not, anywhere in the world on the basis of mere suspicion of being or aiding terrorists and, without charge or trial, “disappear” them to some kind of detention center and hold them as long as they want.

    The president said he would veto the bill if these provisions survived, but there has now been some tweaking and he may sign it into law.

    See these provisions at http://www.downsizedc.org/blog/the-rushed-detainee-provisions-of-ndaa.

    Write the president at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact us.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/15/2011 - 01:10 pm.

    A fine article, Eric.

    Thanks also to Bernice Vetsch, though the irony quotient in this context is substantial. If she has accurately described the way things would work should this legislation become law, Obama’s signature will mark the end of the American democratic experiment, and the efforts of the Founding Fathers in writing a Constitution, and attaching to it a Bill of Rights, will have been in vain.

    Habeas corpus is among the most basic and important rights of all. If Bernice’s description is true, habeas corpus will be no more, and with it will disappear the reality of a free society, no matter how elaborate or long the form remains.

    I hope we all note that this is a provision introduced and supported by at least some members of both political parties, but which received the majority of its support from the political party that yells the loudest and the most often about “freedom.” Truly, doublespeak lives. Where is George Orwell when we really need him?

  4. Submitted by Pat Thompson on 12/15/2011 - 01:54 pm.

    Ray, it sounds like you may not have been following the NDAA debate. Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum both voted against it, but Franken and Klobuchar both voted for it after amendments to revise the pertinent section failed (Franken having voted twice to amend, but Klobuchar only once, as far I understand it).

    The only members of the Senate to vote against were an odd couple list: Democrats Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley and Tom Harkin; Republicans Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Tom Coburn; and independent Bernie Sanders.

    And catch this language from the Wikipedia: “A later amendment to preserve current law concerning U.S. citizens, lawful resident aliens, and others captured within the United States, sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein, was accepted 99 to 1. Senator Feinstein has argued that current law does not allow the indefinite detention of American citizens, while the Obama Administration…argued that it does.”

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/15/2011 - 02:14 pm.

    Also shows the silliness of talking about the intentions of the Founding Fathers. There were as many intentions as there were founders.

  6. Submitted by Paul Landskroener on 12/15/2011 - 02:49 pm.

    The passage of the bill Bernice notes is indeed ironic, but it also illustrates the interplay between rights defined by the Constitution and ordinary legislation, and, more importantly, the limits of relying on constitutional text.

    That is, someone will challenge the constitutionality of sections 1031 or 1032 and courts will determine whether legal rules made by the rich, self-appointed white men in 1789 or 1781 trump the rules made by a popularly elected Congress in 2011.

    And by the way, the “Privilege of Habeas Corpus” is not part of the Bill of Rights amendments but is in Art. 3, sec. 9 of the Constitution proper. The provision says, “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

    So while I share Bernice’s and Ray’s concern with the unwisdom of sections 1031 and 1032, it goes way too far to say that the writ “is no more” or has “disappeared.” The First Congress in 1789 enacted legislation limiting the application of the writ of habeas corpus to those held under federal executive authority, and the habeas statute has been amended many times since, sometimes expanding the writ’s availability (e.g., to those held in custody by a state) and sometimes limiting it (e.g., by imposing a one year statute of limitations on applying for a writ).

    The point is that we cannot rely on the words written by the founders to protect us. If a majority of the people think the founders got it mostly right, we’ll elect legislators who agree. If we think the founders were imperfect and that modern times call for modern laws, we’ll elect legislators who think so, too.

    So I’m with Madison on this: It’s the constitutional framework the founders created for working out our political disagreements is what really protects our freedom, not so much the limitations placed on government by the Bill or Rights. In other words, nothing written by good people 200 years ago will protect us from decisions made by bad people today.

  7. Submitted by Jeff Kline on 12/15/2011 - 03:28 pm.

    Without doing some checking; I read a couple things that were concerning. I suspect this is like a lot of liberal leaning democrats who believe in ever expansive government and ultimately control over the people under that government which then negates the constitution as it is written. I get a kick out of folks who would like to go back and try to negate or remove that constitution. We have one in the White house and executive branches now. Most folks know that the 2nd amendment is the “teeth” to the constitution. If it is in any way negated, the rest of the document becomes pointless and irrelevant; and there fore open to removal. We have some obvious ploys in play now to somehow remove that 2nd amendment. I sure hope it doesn’t happen. A lot will change in an instant if they get on the air waves to demand that the citizens turn in all their weapons.

    We are watching to see who out there is looking to negate or nullify that constitution. It’s usually democrats but there are some jackass rhinos as well out there. McCain is one of them. We the people are watching. I don’t believe we’re going to allow those documents to be taken away from us.

    They say elections have consequences. Boy I sure hope this one has some horrific ones for those who have done ill to this nation and her people.

    Praise God and God bless the USA.

  8. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/15/2011 - 03:43 pm.

    Paul (#6). I agree somewhat with your statement that words written at the birth of our country by good people probably can’t protect us now from bad people writing bad law.

    This is law so bad that the Supreme Court should toss it out without having to be sued. Our civil rights and the international civil rights of other peoples are in danger of being lost because the current majority in the House and their friends in the Senate.

    Not all Republicans buy into this, thank goodness. Rand Paul even wrote legislation that would repeal the War Authorization of 2002 that allowed Bush to give us both Iraq and Afghanistan and now may give us Iran — you know, the second country in the Axis of Evil.

    I have written the president to say that I, and probably millions of others, will find it impossible to support his re-election if he lets this bill go through without vetoing it because of sections 1031 and 1032. Adding to THIS problem is that the Republicans have added his immediate approval of the Keystone pipeline to the bill that should cover only the extension of unemployment compensation. The evil language is buried within the good.

    Google “The 14 Characteristics of Fascism” for a accurate description of the far-right wing of the Republican Party. We are fighting no less an evil than the Germans did prior to World War II when they let their brand of fascism happen.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/15/2011 - 04:23 pm.

    Mea culpa. Maxima mea culpa. Paul (#6) is correct. I didn’t get out my copy of the Constitution to see exactly where habeas corpus shows up, though I knew it was in there somewhere, and it’s not in the Bill of Rights, as he notes.

    I’m glad he included the relevant text, however, since it simply makes clear that there’s no constitutional basis for “indefinite detention.” His last sentence is on-point, as well.

    That said, and with due genuflection in Madison’s direction – and a nod to Pat Thompson (#4) as well – the Obama administration and the Senators and Representatives of both parties who voted for this bill are on the wrong side, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve seen nothing in recent years to suggest that we’re pure and innocent when it comes to treatment of prisoners “suspected” of terrorism, and I won’t be particularly comfortable until “indefinite detention” is not legally possible without accompanying arrest, trial and conviction in front of a civilian jury. Terrorism is virtually never a military act – it’s a civil/criminal one, and ought to be treated as such.

  10. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/15/2011 - 04:28 pm.

    Sorry to make so many comments, but I became curious to see what coverage, beyond C-Span’s telecasts of the floor debates, this matter is getting in the major media. The answer seems to be “none,” which is why many people haven’t heard about it.

    I searched “major media coverage of defense authorization bill” and found an “Occupy Los Angeles” news forum to which a gentleman named Steven Vincent wrote on December 14:

    “A Google search of all the major media sources — ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, MSNBC, CNN, Reuters, New York Times, Associated Press, and NPR reveals no coverage at all over the last week or more and very little coverage if any over the last month.”

    Another poster said that ABC News had discussed a Forbes article titled “The National Defense Authorization Act is the Greatest Threat to Civil Liberties Americans Face.” Forbes introductory paragraph says: “If Obama does one thing for the remainder of his presidency let it be a veto of the National Defense Authorization Act — a law recently passed by the Senate which would place domestic terror investigations and interrogations into the hands of the military and which wuld open the door for trial-free, indefinite detention of anyone, including American citizens, so long as the government calls them terrorists.

    The Forbes article is dated December 5, well before the debates this week. (See http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/12/05/the-national-defense-authorization-act-is-the-greatest-threat-….)

    Eugene Debs went to jail early in the last century for speaking out against World War I. Would any American now be safe from such treatment for critizing our government (or much worse if detained without charge or trial or notification of famiy) if this law passes?

  11. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/15/2011 - 04:39 pm.

    It’s always good to see a bunch of collectivists discussing the Constitution, the founding document that defines the limits of government. Here’s hoping you learn something.

  12. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 12/15/2011 - 06:36 pm.

    If an American citizen is part of a force that has declared war on or engaged in hostilities against, the United States, either by an overt act or in effect; or has made such declaration of engaged in such acts as an individual, they are an enemy combatant. They can be killed on the field of battle, no trial is required.

    If they claim allegiance to the enemy, they are an enemy combatant. If they maintain their claim to status as an American citizen, they are subject to be tried under 18 USC 2381.

    There is another provision, 8 USC 1481, that specifies when persons lose citizenship because of entering, or serving in, the armed forces of a foreign state if “such armed forces are engaged in hostilities against the United States” or “such persons serve as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer”.

    In view of the nature of transnational Islamist jihadism, these laws will have to be changed. Jihadists do not wear distinctive uniforms or insignias on or off the the traditional field of battle. To understand the Islamist concept of war, read “Reliance of the Traveler” by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Masri.

  13. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/15/2011 - 10:05 pm.

    Good article, Eric. The Bill of Rights is the only worthwhile, nonobsolete part of the Constitution. As we see today, we have a completely dysfunctional government that is responsive only to the wealthiest 1%. The worst parts of the government today are things like the filibuster rules which don’t even require a filibuster for one person to block legislation. I don’t think Peter the Great or any of the greatest tyrants in history could have devised a more diabiolical scheme for disenfranchsing the people whose “natural rights” are supposedly God given birthrights than the “Founding Fathers” did in this Constitution.

    I think people who try to see some upside in this NDAA don’t consider that without Bill of Rights protections definitions like “terrorist” or whatever are meaningless. If you are detained without the right to due process in some secret place, it makes no difference if you have some objection under the law because you have no neutral magistrate or judge to tell your story to. Be assured that in this country where even citizens are guaranteed such rights, abuses of these rights are a daily occurrence in the USA, particularly if you cannot afford competent legal counsel.

  14. Submitted by Hal Davis on 12/16/2011 - 01:56 am.

    Hmm… Jefferson wanted “restriction against monopolies.”

    Wonder how far we’ve gotten with that.

  15. Submitted by Jared Hoke on 12/16/2011 - 08:19 am.

    Eric Black’s “Bill of Rights Day” piece is yet another excellent example of how truth is often so MUCH more interesting than fiction. The real story of our “Founding Fathers” should be required reading for every citizen. Many thanks to Mr. Black for an interesting and revealing glimpse of democracy in action.

  16. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/16/2011 - 08:56 am.

    Dave–
    It was Ben Franklin.

  17. Submitted by Jonathan Fribley on 12/17/2011 - 09:15 am.

    Re comment #11, Dennis,
    You fundamentally misunderstand the history of the Constitution in a way that misconstrues the entire enterprise. The purpose of the Constitution, in the founder’s eyes, was not to limit government. It was to establish the powers of government.

    The United States had a highly limited government under the original Articles of Confederation. The “founders” concluded that the government was not functional under the Articles of Confederation because the government had insufficient power, especially lacking the capacity to raise its own funds – tax. Hence at the convention to revise the Articles it was proposed (in secret, no less) to throw out the entire Articles and create a new Constitution that would establish the powers that those at the convention deemed necessary for an effective central government.

    As Mr Black describes in this article, the Constitution was perceived my many as a federal power grab (probably the perception was correct.) Hence the need for the Bill of Rights. The Constitution was only ratified after citizens made sure that there were limits to the powers of the federal government, because the Constitution itself contained none.

    Those who argue for limited government are certainly entitled to their case but do not claim the mantle of the founders to do so. It was only those that opposed the Constitution that ensured that any limits to government power are to be found in the document.

    Personally I have a lot of sympathy with the anti-Federalists. But they lost. And those on the right that argue for limited government are not arguing the Constitutional side. They are arguing the anti-Federalist position – those that opposed the Constitution.

  18. Submitted by Carlos Mariani on 12/17/2011 - 11:03 am.

    Eric, what a great gift of reflection and remembrance of how our rights came to be defined.

    As a state legislator I can tell you that over 200 years later most of us, from all parties, remain centered on this debate. It produces both bad and good outcomes – division and unity – but it often is an honest struggle. And this struggle, I believe, makes us a unique people in history.

    I believe we have a long way to go to achieve social justice, so I don’t think our historical uniqueness equates to be better than other people, but the presence of a living debate over how to structure and maintain a government that is strong enought to secure a union while respecting personal freedoms offers us all the possibility of living a dynamic life.

    That is, if we engage.

    And that is, if we can free ourselves from the immature obsession of material accumulation as the priority of our existence. Just as the Bill of Rights remind us that government exists to serve the people, the common good, so too should it remind us that economics exists to serve the people, the common good, and that we the people should not be the servants of wealth.

    And like the debate over the boundaries of self governance – with Tea Party advocates on one side and liberal democrats like me on another – we need to challenge the appropriate boundaries of our economic order. Should we accept large disparities of income, of concentrated accumulation of wealth, of political power dictated by such wealth?

    And as we give ourselves permission to accept the governance debate – rooted as it is in the debates of the shapers of our Constitution – without ascribing the “other” as disloyal to America, so too should we debate the limits of power we allow the private marketplace without ridicule.

    And thank you Eric for sharing how messy and intrigue laden the debate and decision making was from the start. It continues to be so. And as frustrating as that is, I am thankful that the Masons of the age nonetheless had the courage to stand and engage, that the Hamiltons forced deep reflection by challenging intellectually, that the Henry’s also challenged electorally And that the Madison’s doggedly steered a course to action.

    It’s messy and intrigue laden today also. The MN 2011 state legislative session is case in point. But that’s democracy.

    And it only means something If we – the people – stay doggedly, courageously, engaged.

    State Rep Carlos Mariani

  19. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/17/2011 - 03:05 pm.

    “Should we accept large disparities of income, of concentrated accumulation of wealth, of political power dictated by such wealth?”

    Only if you believe in a free society. Putting arbitrary limits on wealth is putting arbitrary limits on freedom. I know liberal democrats don’t have a problem with that but the rest of us do.

    But if you’re really concerned about “political power dictated by such wealth,” what do you say about Barack Obama and his brazen promise to raise and spend an unprecedented one billion dollars for his re-election campaign? I have yet to hear one liberal democrat publicly criticize it.

  20. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/17/2011 - 08:02 pm.

    @#20 Dennis: “arbitrary limits”? Is there a distinction between homicide committed by the state in supposed justification for a “capital crime” versus one committed in self defense versus manslaughter versus premeditated murder? All of them end in the death of a human being. But are the differences the law makes between how people meet their ends “arbitrary”? Is it a limit on freedom that if someone dies because of something you did you go to the chair or maybe spend the rest of your life in prison? Of course it is. Jon, you’re being ridiculous, you say. But if the “masters of the universe” who knowingly engineered the 2008 financial meltdown to make big money themselves end up being multi-billionaires, is it arbitrary to inquire about this and maybe demand they pay it all back?

    Let’s make this easy: did Jon Corzine or any of the MB Global manager who cannot find billions of their clients money have to pay any penalty if they cannot pay it back? How it is any different from what Goldman Sachs, and the rest of the Wall Street pirates did to the economy? Should these people and their heirs be allowed to lord it over us in perpetuity?

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