George Washington wrote of the Bill of Rights: “They have given the rights of man a full and fair discussion, and explained them in so clear and forcible manner as cannot fail to make a lasting impression.”
In order to understand a document and how it came to be, one must look at the events leading up to the writing of that document. The events, slights, abandonment and outright abuses heaped upon the colonies by the British government, the military assigned to the colonies, and of course, the king; played their role in the feelings and ingenuity of the framers of our Constitution.
When Americans, or even anyone around the world, discusses the Constitution of the United States of America, there are countless ways of interpreting the meaning behind that simple document. Let us begin by looking at the document itself. It is wondrously short, yet full of complex meaning. No other nation in the world has a document outlining its basis of government that has so few words. The very act of putting this document together is surprising in itself.
The time line for the construction of the country along with its Constitution is a marvel. In a little more than 30 years, an idea took root, spread, then culminated into what is now, the most powerful country in the world. This was, and still is, unheard of. All due to the positioning of words in a short document that holds immeasurable meaning. The idea of freedom and independence was not to be denied.
The formation of this idea began with the French and Indian war and the treatment of the colonists by the English soldiers and their king. The British had nothing but contempt for the colonists and the king had only suspicions. After several pleas for aid by the colonists, and after several refusals to give aid, the king finally sent troops; however, kept the colonists at arm’s length keeping them mainly in the infantry and rarely in the leadership of the conflict. It led communities throughout the colonies to question British authorities who would demand horses, feed, wagons, and quarters — but deny colonials the right to fight in defense of the Empire, a right which they considered central to their self-image as Englishmen.
This feeling of abandonment and mistreatment was further stoked by the defeat of the Albany Congress and the implementation of the Proclamation of 1763. Once again, their king had denied the colonists of what they believed they deserved and had a right to as loyal subjects of their king. To further vex the colonists, several tax acts were executed between 1764 and 1773. Enough was enough; they would stand no more…then the act that eclipsed all others, the tax act of 1773. All of these injustices and slights culminated into the most ingenious of all documents, the Constitution.
The Constitution did not begin as it is written, it started in several documents, writings, and ideas from several revolutionaries who had the vision of a free and independent land, and who also had deep memories for of how the former government did not work to support the freedom they all craved so dearly. Our forefathers were in fact committing treason and they knew it, but felt there was no other choice. They chose their words very carefully so as not to be misunderstood, or misinterpreted. There was far too much at stake.
The ideas and the formation of the Constitution were inspired by several works of the time; such as the writings of John Locke, Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws, the booklet “Common Sense” by Thomas Payne, the inspirational speech by Patrick Henry, the Declaration of Independence and, of course, the articles of Confederation. These works of liberty and independence along with the debate of men who fought for freedom, had to be constructed into a document that would be able to change and conform to time as well as be held together by a foundation that could never crumble or be destroyed.
I believe our forefathers chose their words with extreme care in order to be as clear and concise as possible. Words have meaning in the construction of a document. The positioning of these words is purposeful, not to be rearranged for the benefit of the reader. The meaning is precise and therefore the intent must be clear. The intent of our forefathers in writing the Constitution was this: to outline the construction of the United States of America and to lay a foundation of a government of the people, for the people so that its citizens can be protected both by and from their government. By building in an amendment process contingent on the approval of three-fourths of the states an orderly way to make necessary additions was provided. A system of check and balances would keep any one branch of the government from becoming so powerful that the people’s freedoms would be jeopardized.
There are those who believe that the intent of our forefathers was restricted to the time they lived in and that the Constitution is open to varied interpretation depending on the time and issue. I am not one of them. I believe their intent is very clear, and to say otherwise is to belie the very core of our country’s foundation.
The Framers’ intent in constructing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was to put into plain language, the foundation of a country that will welcome all who desire freedom and independence. These great men formed an idea, fought against the most powerful nation in the world and constructed a most unique form of government by and for the citizens of that government. It was everything that all other nations were not.
To this day, there is no other form of government equal to that of the United States of America.