The Bill for Our Rights: What Makes America Exceptional

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By Robert B. Young, MD

This past weekend we all should have been jubilantly celebrating the 226th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the original 10 amendments to the United States’ federal constitution. Remarkably, it slipped by relatively unremarked. Yet our Bill of Rights may actually be the most significant of our republic’s founding documents.

The Declaration of Independence announced our nationhood. The Constitution defined our government. The Bill of Rights confirms our liberty as free people who are not subservient to our government.

There is a lot wrong today that the authors of the Bill of Rights anticipated and meant to preclude. But the Framers knew that natural and civil rights, including these broad and individual ones that were defined so early on, are actually not worth the parchment they’re inked on. They’re worth what each generation holds they mean regardless of original intent. That’s how they’ve often become too loosely interpreted.

There was strong agreement among the Founders about the importance of these principles to a civil, democratic society and in their belief that they were codifying rights that were mostly pre-existent and inherent to the dignity of human beings. The conflict between Federalists and Anti-Federalists over whether to formalize these was about the impact of leaving unstated other rights “retained by the people” or “reserved to the states”. There was no disagreement about the importance of any of the rights for which the colonists had fought and died for.

Federalists worried that documenting any rights implied disregard for those not enumerated. Anti-Federalists feared that not including these in the Constitution would eventually make it easier to ignore them. Over 200 years later, it appears the Anti-Federalists showed the greater foresight on this question.

The Second Amendment (in James Madison’s original draft, beginning with “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”) is our particular concern here at Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership. Not just to protect the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, but also because this individual right is so basic to all other rights of Americans. It is, in St. George Tucker’s words, our “palladium of liberty”. Just having this enumerated right for individuals to own and use weapons makes us unique among nations.

One reason Americans have always seen ourselves as exceptional is because of the individual obligation for self-responsibility that is required by minimizing dependence on government. We’ve been realists since the first boots trod the Atlantic coast, taught by the frontier experience that we have to take care of ourselves.

We discovered that people have the right “to the pursuit of Happiness”, not to be made happy. We learned that we have the right, and therefore the duty, to protect ourselves because there is no right to be free from harm. If we do not comprehend these core truths, we become dependent on government for happiness and protection— according to others’ standards, not our own.

As Americans moved westward, they outpaced the advance of existing government, an unusual pattern throughout the hemisphere. Sometimes alone, often in scattered clusters of neighboring settlers, they had to meet their own needs. They were guided in establishing their own local authorities by the same traditions we look to today to understand our relationship to government that now envelops us.

That historical ethic of self-reliance without a safety net is a recent enough phenomenon to continue influencing our psyches. That’s good because this world, and too often our own part of it, is an unpredictable and dangerous place.

Accepting the responsibility to care for oneself, one’s families and fellow citizens must be at the heart of any successful society. A hard-nosed, far-sighted understanding of that reality is central to American history, coupled with our optimism and generosity.

This is why DRGO speaks out on behalf of our fellow citizens. We oppose professional and cultural group-think that would have us ask more what our country can do for us, than what we can do for ourselves and our country.

DRGO vouches for the capacity of people to do the right things for themselves and each other, even with powerful tools like firearms. If we don’t, we’ll lose our history, our liberty, and each other.

 

DRGO Editor Robert B. Young, MD is a psychiatrist practicing in Pittsford, NY, an associate clinical professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

This article originally appeared at drgo.us and is reprinted here with permission. 

comments

  1. avatar Ralph says:

    The Bill of Rights is a piece of paper. What made America great was Americans, not parchment and ink. We as a people were better than the rest of the planet. Now, we are becoming them, and our country is in steep decline because of it.

    1. avatar Chris T in KY says:

      Old fashion standards of conduct and accountability keep america better than any other country.
      When we lowered our standards, that was the beginning of the end.

      1. avatar Mad Max says:

        It ain’t over yet.

        It appears to be time to refresh the tree of liberty…

        1. avatar Ansel Hazen says:

          Heed The Call Up.

          Join your states militia.

    2. avatar B.D. says:

      Aint the illusion of freedom great. We have progressed directly back to the redcoats.

    3. avatar UsedtobePun says:

      Not only is it just a piece of paper, but the “history” we’ve been told is sorely lacking.

      The Constitutional Convention was illegal. The convention met in private and was apart from the Continental Congress who had the lawful ability to convene on these matters. The Anti-Federalists were not just protesting that the Federalists didn’t want to enumerate rights…the entire Constitutional document is a blueprint (duh) for a strong, powerful centralized federal government. Thus the Anti-Federalists did not want the Constitution at all! Patrick Henry and other Anti-Federalists completely refused to be a part of the entire Con Con business because they knew it was a true con.

      States were not allowed to see what the Constitution said until it went to their ratifying committees…it was the first “you gotta pass it to see what’s in it” scheme that has been perfected today. And a lot of States rejected it. The Bill of Rights came directly out of the States being so pissed about the Constitution itself. They knew it created a Federal Leviathan. There were more amendments originally on it as well, but those were whittled down. Rhode Island never did ratify the Constitution they were basically forced at gun point to join.

      This all came to a head in the War of Northern Aggression to finally put an end to States’ Rights once and for all and “perfect” the “Union” at all costs under one Federal head under Lincoln the Tyrant.

      Do some research outside of what you were taught in government-mandated indoctrination centers and research written by government bootlickers. You’ll start to find the truth. This country was bought and paid for before the red coats had time to leave. Alexander Hamilton, the Federalists and their like minded ilk have have been playing 4D chess for a long time.

      “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.” – Lysander Spooner, No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority 1867

      1. avatar LarryinTX says:

        I’m pretty sure they did not understand the Internet real well, so I’m not sure just how the BoR was to be shown to everybody at once. Of the constitutional congress was illegal, under whose laws was it illegal? The King of England? If there was no constitution where did that law come from? Your post I silly.

        1. avatar LarryinTX says:

          I want EDIT!!!!

      2. avatar EWTHeckman says:

        Oh goody. Another “everything good is bad” conspiracy theory claiming non-facts to be facts. Not even people of the time who wrote against the Constitution used this silly theory. (Though they did sound a lot like internet commentators of today do.)

        I’m giving this all the respect it deserves. (Somewhere in the deep negatives.)

    4. avatar Flying Fish says:

      Why does no one ever talk of their Ninth Amendment rights? I think that applying the Ninth Amendment would negate nearly all Second Amendment assaults.
      “A plausible pretense for claiming that power,
      from Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 84:
      I go further and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted, and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For 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.”

  2. avatar Michael says:

    Please, if there’s another shoe please drop it, this has been a tough week. I kept waiting for the…”but…”. Woah, no other shoe. Thank you, Doctor Young. …one who’d be fit to ride the river with…and every dang year there’s gettin’ to be fewer and fewer. -30-

  3. avatar MeRp says:

    There’s another good reason to take special note of the second amendment in this particular lien of thinking. That is that it is a pretty specific and focused right, and yet despite that focus and specification, it has been ignored and corrupted. Even the 1st amendment kinda wanders around (religion, freedom to assemble, freedom of speech, specifying Congress as the ones not allowed to violate it)… but none of that is in the first; it protects two things only; keeping arms and bearing arms, names them as a single right, and specifies that that right shall not be infringed, which seems about as absolute as it can possibly get.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Suspect you meant “in the Second”, as opposed to “in the First”.

  4. avatar Pg2 says:

    None of the recent events should be that surprising. Are there really still people out there mentally numb enough to believe the 2 parties are not controlled by the same poeple?

    1. avatar Salty Bear says:

      Yes there are, and they will keep voting for the same old Democrat and Republican sell-outs until all our rights are destroyed.

      1. avatar possum says:

        Until I have a choice besides rattlesnake or cottonmouth its Daffy Duck in 2020

  5. avatar Salty Bear says:

    All true rights boil down to the right to control one’s own property. The property right arises from the primal need to resolve conflicts over control of scarce resources. This right springs naturally from the fact that you literally control your own body, and is the reason you have the right to speak and act as long as you don’t infringe on the property of others. The right to keep and bear arms is a redundant iteration of the right to property. The right to privacy is too (your person, papers, and effects are yours – you control access to them).

    Everyone has the same rights. You can’t acquire special rights by wearing a badge or by hoisting a flag and convincing everyone you possess some magical, nonexistent thing called “authority.”

    It’s too bad that almost nobody understands these simple, self-evident concepts – what a wonderful world we’d live in.

    1. avatar Baldwin says:

      Well said.

  6. avatar Aaron Walker says:

    “Red Flag/STOP/ERPO Laws” are the newest encroachment AGAINST personal liberty and freedom….It ALL started with the Patriot Act and the beginning of Homeland Security…Even the name sounds very 3rd Reich….Snowmen warned us this kind of stuff was in the works and on the way….We the people need to remove the profit motive out of public service…Let OUR “representatives” receive minimum wage and OBAMACARE….Along with Term Limits…..

  7. avatar GS650G says:

    We’ll tell our grandchildren stories about buying owning and shooting guns because all we’ll have then is stories.

    1. avatar Pg2 says:

      If you’re allowed to have grandchildren.

      1. avatar LarryinTX says:

        And you’re allowed to tell them anything.

  8. avatar Aaron Walker says:

    Lack of an edit system sucks balls…Correction: *Snowden….*

  9. avatar possum says:

    Thinking about America what was, and now what is, makes me cry.

    1. avatar Michael says:

      Possum, when I feel like that I go out in desert and shoot my firearms. It won’t change anything. For me, the worst day shooting beats the best day not shooting. -30-

      1. avatar possum says:

        Good idea.Yup

  10. avatar Timothy Toroian says:

    Ralph, you’re right, it is a piece of paper. There was much discussion at the time whether or not codification was necessary. Eventually, they decided it was a good idea to make sure everybody including the government understood the rights and what they meant. That is why we have amendments 9 and 10. Yeah, it was the people but how much of a problem would it be to argue with some of today’s anti-Constitutional people if the Bill wasn’t on that “piece of paper”? I am being polite when I just call them anti-Constitutional.

  11. avatar luigi says:

    I think the Anti-Federalists (they were the real federalists, the “Federalists” were really nationalists) “showed the greater foresight” on many other questions as well

  12. avatar Cliffg says:

    It is always hilarious to listen to someone who will agree that Amemdments 1, 3-9, all refer to individual rights, but somehow the 2nd doesn’t. While we are properly fixated on the 2nd, make no mistake 1and 3-10 would happily be eviscerated by our liberal betters (one could argue that our judicial system has already done away with 4-8 – just note asset confiscation laws). Our founders were firmly of the opinion that democracy was not to be trusted with the republic, thus the necessity for a central government of limited powers and the repetition of a series of accepted natural rights. We have never achieved perfection in those goals, and never will, but the current path of not even trying will end up……badly.

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