Why Our Forefathers Fought So Hard For A Bill Of Rights


I once sat on a board down in Mesa Public Schools headed by an assistant superintendent who had a genius for slicing through the arguments flying around a room and getting to the heart of the matter. One time we were just about to make a decision when someone objected that if we gave the people involved what they wanted they would want something else, something they didn’t have.

The assistant super smiled and said, “People always want what they haven’t got. What would you expect them to want?”

And with that, arguments ended and we approved the proposal.

Which worked out quite well for the school district.

That small little insight has helped me to understand a lot of things since that day 15 years ago, not the least of which is why we have a Bill of Rights.

For many years I thought the Bill of Rights originated in the heads of people who were worried about losing their rights under the new Constitution. How wrong I was! Our forefathers wanted those rights spelled out in writing as part of the basic law of our land, not only because they were worried about the possibility of losing their rights, but also because they wanted some rights they never had.

As, for example, the freedom to worship as they chose.

“What?” you may be saying. “I thought we already had that.”

I’m not surprised you might think that. I thought so too. After all, many of our forefathers came here to America to get away from religious persecution, so I always took it for granted that it was something we enjoyed right from the beginning.

However, a couple of books have came into my hands recently that genuinely opened my eyes. In one of them the author, speaking of the causes of the Revolutionary War, mentioned Virginia in 1764 and casually pointed out that, “The Church of England had been the established religion from the time the colony was settled, and the law required all Virginians to take communion twice a year in an Anglican church.”

Ministers of other faiths who wanted to preach, he said, had to go to the capital to obtain a license. Baptists, Methodists, and Quakers, he added, refused to apply for any such license and were jailed or fined for it.

What an eye-opener! Religious persecution? In America? In 1764, just 12 years before we declared our independence?

No wonder people demanded the First Amendment.

That, and some other things I have read in those books, which contain authentic records of the time, explain why our forefathers made it clear our new Constitution would be ratified by the states only if they were promised that a Bill of Rights would be added.

Here are a few authentic quotes for you, Johnny. Get ready to read some things that are nothing less than amazing.

Rewind to New London, Connecticut, in 1652.

To understand these next two quotes you have to know that “rate” is a British term for a property tax, “meeting house” means church, “highwaie” means highway, and “£14” in those days was the equivalent of about $500 in today’s money.

First I read: “A rate of £14 was levied to build a new meeting house, and the site fixed by a town vote, December 16th, 1652.”

About which a Mr. Bruen of New London commented: “The place for the new meeting-house was concluded on by the meeting to be in the highwaie, taking a corner of my lot to supply the highwaie.”

In other words, not only did they pass a blanket property tax on everyone in the settlement to build a church, but one poor guy discovered that they had also taken the corner of his land for it.

Here are some more quotes from a history of New London.

“Minutes of cases before Court, 1664, 1665 and 1666.”

“Before this court Captain Denison brought various charges against a young man at Mystic, by the name of John Carr, accusing him of engaging the affections of his daughter Anne without leave, of proposing to her to leave her father’s house and marry him ...”

“Fined: £34. 7s. 6d.”

Imagine! Fined for asking a girl to marry him.

The history goes on to say, “John Carr appears to have had an extra quantity of wild oats to sow; the next year he was again arraigned, together with John Ashcraft, for ... endeavoring to entice women from their husbands, concealing themselves in houses, writing letters which [were] intercepted.

They were fined, and the wives of several men solemnly warned ... to take care.”

The book adds, “John Carr died in 1675.”

I swear I could almost hear a big sigh of relief.

And then there is this intriguing entry, “Isaac Waterhouse indicted for throwing the cart and stocks into the Cove.”

I guess Isaac did not like the idea of being punished in public by sitting in a cart with his hands and feet in stocks.

It didn’t say what his punishment was, but you can bet it involved drying off the stocks and putting him in them.

In 1667, “Goodwife Willey presented for not attending public worship, and bringing her children thither; fined 5s.”

And, “Matthew Waller for the same offence, fined 5s.”

I could go on and on, but let’s get to something a whole lot more important — search warrants. This you will hardly believe.

Reading about Boston in 1761 I learned that British law included something called a Writ of Assistance. With such a writ you could search anybody, anywhere. To show you what I mean, and to demonstrate that a writ could be used on anyone, take the case of John Ware to whom a customs officer casually endorsed a writ of assistance. When Ware was arrested for a misdemeanor, brought before a judge, and fined, he turned to and tore up the judge’s house from attic to cellar, “searching” it in revenge.

And then he started on the arresting officer’s house.

About a year ago I think it was, I made the comment on a Roundup forum that I thought we didn’t really need a written Bill of Rights because when I was over in Europe for four years they seemed to have pretty much the same rights we did.

May I be permitted — red face and all — to retract that comment?

Man! When I’m wrong, I’m wrong!


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