The U.S. Constitution is an organization plan.  Rights were added later.   -   July 31, 2021

Individuals’ Rights Are Not In the Original Constitution.  Where Are They?

The only rights in the original Constitution are in Article I, Section 9:  “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public safety may require it.”  And, “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.”

Our original Constitution is the organizational plan for our representative form of government.  It describes the branches and offices of federal government and specifies their powers.  It recognizes the roles and relationships of states and limits their powers to domestic matters.  But, while it refers to such items as bail and voting, the original Constitution contains no specific mention of individual rights except those mentioned in Article I, Section 9.

Approval of the Constitution was problematic because the original document did not articulate individual rights.  Anti-federalists insisted that “a bill of rights is necessary… to protect the people from the tyranny of the few.”  So, to gain approval, federalist delegates agreed to include a list of specified rights in constitutional amendments to be submitted to the states immediately following ratification of the Constitution.

Government under the U.S. Constitution began on March 4, 1789.  Later that year Congress approved 12 Articles of amendment and submitted them to the states for ratification.  Those addressing individuals’ rights, Articles 3-12, were ratified by late 1791 as the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution – the Bill of Rights.  They actually specify 26 individual rights:

  1. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to peaceably assemble, right to petition the government for redress of grievances;
  2. Right to keep and bear arms;
  3. Freedom from unwarranted quartering of Soldiers;
  4. Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom from Warrants lacking probable cause and other specifics;
  5. Requirement of grand jury for indictment, freedom from double jeopardy, freedom from self-incrimination, protection of due process, sanctity of private property against takings without just compensation;
  6. In criminal prosecutions - right to speedy trial by jury, right to be informed of the charge, right to confront prosecution witnesses, right to defense witnesses, right to defense counsel;
  7. In civil proceedings – right to trial by jury, freedom from double jeopardy as to facts;
  8. Protection against excessive bail, excessive fine and cruel or unusual punishment;
  9. Guarantee of rights not specified;
  10. Guarantee of powers not delegated to United States nor prohibited to the states/individuals.

Subsequent Amendments to the Constitution have specified or extended additional individual rights ...

  • Amendment XIII (1865) abolished slavery in the United States.

  • Amendment XIV (1868) declared that all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.  It also guarantees due process and equal protection of the law for virtually everyone within the jurisdiction of every state.

  • Four amendments (XV, XIX, XXIV, XXVI) ratified between 1870 and 1971 have extended the right to vote to virtually all citizens 18 years of age and older.

These 33 individual rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution are articulated as limitations on government powers.  Some are now, arguably, more important than others.  We’ve referred to a few of these in earlier blogs; we’ll discuss those and others over the next months.  WHICH SEEM MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?

(For more, preview Rise and Decline here.)


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