Pa­trick Henry and the Bill of Rights

The Washington Times Daily - - CELEBRATING FREEDOM - By Mark Cou­vil­lon “You are not to in­quire how your trade may be in­creased, nor how you are to be­come a great and pow­er­ful peo­ple, but how your lib­er­ties can be se­cured; for lib­erty ought to be the di­rect end of your gov­ern­ment.” “The rights of con­science

So stated Pa­trick Henry to the del­e­gates who as­sem­bled in Rich­mond in June 1788 to de­cide if Vir­ginia should ac­cept or re­ject the United States Con­sti­tu­tion.

Just a few blocks away from where the Rat­i­fy­ing Con­ven­tion was meet­ing stood St. John’s Church, where, in 1775, Pa­trick Henry had de­manded “Lib­erty or Death!” Now, 13 years later, the el­der states­man saw the same threats to the peo­ple’s rights un­der the pro­posed Con­sti­tu­tion as they had faced un­der King Ge­orge III.

Be­liev­ing that the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion con­tained suf­fi­cient checks to pro­tect the rights and priv­i­leges of the peo­ple, the Fed­er­al­ists, led by James Madi­son, did not in­clude a bill of rights in the doc­u­ment.

This was un­ac­cept­able to Henry, who saw po­ten­tial abuses of power through­out the pro­posed Con­sti­tu­tion, es­pe­cially in its “im­plied” pow­ers.

warned the Great Or­a­tor. To counter these threats, Henry moved that amend­ments be added to the Con­sti­tu­tion prior to its adop­tion and pro­posed 40 ar­ti­cles that pro­vided for such spe­cific rights as free­dom of speech, as­sem­bly and re­li­gion, as well as the right to keep and bear arms, for no ex­ces­sive bail or cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment, and for keep­ing the jury sys­tem “sa­cred and in­vi­o­lable.”

In or­der to gain enough votes in fa­vor of rat­i­fi­ca­tion, the Fed­er­al­ists coun­tered Henry’s mea­sure by agree­ing to rec­om­mend amend­ments to Congress af­ter its adop­tion. The com­pro­mise worked. On June 21, 1788, Vir­ginia be­came the 10th state to rat­ify the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

Not re­ly­ing on the half-hearted pledge of the Fed­er­al­ists, Pa­trick Henry led the charge to in­sure that a bill of rights was added. When the Vir­ginia state leg­is­la­ture con­vened in the fall of 1788, Henry in­tro­duced a res­o­lu­tion to in­struct their del­e­gates in Congress to call for a gen­eral con­ven­tion, com­prised of all the States, to draw up amend­ments to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

Know­ing Madi­son’s op­po­si­tion to­wards amend­ments, Henry also nom­i­nated Richard Henry Lee and Wil­liam Grayson (two An­tifed­er­al­ists) to the newly formed Se­nate, to in­sure a bill of rights would be adopted.

De­feated from a seat in the Se­nate, Madi­son was forced to make a cam­paign pledge to the vot­ers to push for amend­ments in or­der to se­cure his elec­tion to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Be­liev­ing a sec­ond con­ven­tion would weaken the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, Madi­son stole the thun­der from the An­tifed­er­al­ists by agree­ing to in­tro­duce amend­ments on the floor of Congress a day be­fore the Vir­ginia res­o­lu­tion call­ing for a sec­ond con­ven­tion was pre­sented.

Although Henry was pleased to see the ba­sic rights of the peo­ple pro­tected, he was cha­grined to learn that Madi­son in­tro­duced none of the amend­ments that he had pre­sented be­fore the Vir­ginia Rat­i­fy­ing Con­ven­tion, which se­cured the states from the en­croach­ment of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing his ar­ti­cle for­bid­ding di­rect tax­a­tion by Congress and for plac­ing term lim­its on the Pres­i­dent.

Though Pa­trick Henry had re­fused to at­tend the 1787 Philadel­phia Con­ven­tion, which drew up the Con­sti­tu­tion, his role in the for­ma­tion of the new gov­ern­ment can­not be over­stated. Aided by his pow­er­ful or­a­tory dur­ing the Vir­ginia Rat­i­fy­ing Con­ven­tion, “The Son of Thun­der” put that doc­u­ment through the fire — ham­mer­ing ev­ery part of it, test­ing it for flaws and weak­nesses — and, as a re­sult, made the Con­sti­tu­tion stronger than be­fore.

And though James Madi­son is re­garded to­day as the “Fa­ther of Bill of Rights,” it was Henry, more than any other, who forced him to in­tro­duce those revered amend­ments, which have since be­come a bul­wark against gov­ern­men­tal op­pres­sion. With­out the pres­sure from Pa­trick Henry and his party, first in the con­ven­tion, and then in Congress, it is doubt­ful if the U.S. would have had a fed­eral bill of rights in its present form.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.