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American Independence – In Context

What could motivate a nation to take arms against it civil authority, as it did in 1775?  Weapons built for self-defense and hunting, were turned against soldiers and their authority.  What would it take for you to do that same?  Chances are the answer is…pretty much the same.  I don’t think history books capture the essence of the American Revolutionary War.  This short blog will make an attempt.

The American colonies had almost been converted to the world’s largest plantation.  Ruled by Great Britain, they could only buy and sell to Great Britain.  The colonies were at risk of being a clone of Great Britian, complete with ruling class; yet populated by a people who had left the mother country seeking greater liberty.  Liberty in regards to worship, land ownership, and just about everything else.  They had fought and died just to have land to farm.  They had built cities and formed local governments.  But by the 1770’s, the British monarchy had become more foreign than domestic to them, when previously the colonists were proud loyal subjects.  Oppressive economic policies and the lack of any voice to negotiate a different future, provided the motivation and resolve to resist by any means at their disposal.  The rest is history.

Then came the opportunity to rule ourselves.  After a failed first attempt, our founders gave us the Constitution we have now.  Well almost.  After crafting a document that provided for a more cohesive national government, there was concern that a national government would do just what the last government had done.  That is, force laws onto states without proper regard for state’s rights or individual liberties.  So the founders issued a list of liberties and rights so well underscored, they shouldn’t be misunderstood.  You’d think.

The ten amendments (or Bill of Rights) as they were formed then, must be considered in their context to be fully appreciated.  The context is that individual liberty is worth protecting and defending.  They had just been successful won at great sacrifice.  They didn’t want a repeat of another bloody revolution that had countryman at each other’s throats or in each other’s sights.

The 10 Bill of Rights reads like a list of “thou shalt nots,” but that’s THE WHOLE POINT.  These are limitations on the government to protect the liberties that it assumes we already have.  Here is is in my own modern equivalency; sans all SCOTUS “modifications:”

  1. The government will not establish a state church or make it illegal to worship as we see fit to do so. The government will not take steps to keep us from voicing our opinions as individuals or in the form of organized media.  The government will allow us to petition them with our complaints without fear of retribution of any kind.
  1. An effective fighting force comprised of citizens is essential to a state (and its people) being free from oppression by a federal government. Therefore, we have the right to own, keep, and carry arms for the purpose of offering a check and balance to what could be oppression by armed soldiers.
  1. The government will never, peace time or in war, forcibly quarter soldiers in private homes. In times of war, that can be changed but only by law.
  1. Unless there is established probably cause, we are free from searches by the government. The government actually had to detail what it is looking for and the place they will be searching.
  1. Unless it during war, people cannot be tried for a major crime unless they are first indicted by a Grand Jury. We can only be tried once for the same crime, cannot be compelled to give testimony in our own trial, or be punished in any form without following the legal process. Also, no one can have property of any kind seized without being paid full market price.
  1. We, as accused individuals have a right to a speedy trial where the crime was committed, and by an impartial jury. We have the right to know the accusation, to confront and question the witnesses against us, provide our own witnesses (by compulsion, if necessary), and to have legal counsel.
  1. We have a right to be tried by a jury of our peers. Courts of Appeal must look at evidence as it was provided during the original trial.
  1. Bail and punishment for crimes should be predetermined without any prejudice toward who a person is.
  1. We have other rights, regardless if they are contained in the Constitution or not. These unmentioned rights are just as important as the rights that are expressly mentioned.
  1. Any power not expressly given or denied by the U.S Constitution, or prohibited by a State, belongs to the States individually or to the people.

Its not hard to understand the Constitution.  But some would have us believe we can’t without rulings from courts.  Many believe that the language can be interpreted through the lens of modern context.  I strongly object to this thinking.  Everything said and done by us or by our founders can only be understood fully, by setting the words in their context.

America was founded by, and remains a nation that values our personal liberties.  We’re not a perfect country.  But this is who we are, or we’ll cease to be Americans.

 

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