While looking back through the archives to catch up on what I missed while on vacation, I discovered a rather animated conversation on the topic of Rights. I kept finding among the comments of some our friends the curious assertion that our rights are somehow given to us by the government. I’d like to ask those who hold that notion to explain how that could be the case?
If it were so, where did the government acquire them to give away? Not from the text of the Constitution, as it provides for the organization of the government itself, delineating the roles of the various branches, and enumerating and restricting the powers of each.
Not from the Bill of Rights, as its purpose was to preclude the government from infringing on the liberties of the people which were, by its very language, already assumed to exist. “Congress shall make no law…” is not a bequest to the people, but a clear boundary on the reach of the government. In modern parlance: “Don’t even go there!”
The answer to the founders was so ‘self-evident’ that some of them even argued against any need for expressly stating them.
"We the people of the United States…do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America." Here is a better recognition of popular rights than volumes of those aphorisms which make the principal figure in several of our state bills of rights…” Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #84
Fortunately for us, Mr. Hamilton’s more wary colleagues prevailed and took no chances on either the memories or good will of their descendants. With the Bill of Rights they specified those areas upon which the government may not trespass, and did so in language that left no doubt regarding their suspicions.
The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses, should be added: …Preamble to the Bill of Rights
Their caution was not misplaced then, nor is it now, particularly when many among us have been led to believe the cart came before the horse. The government the Founders designed was established to protect our rights not to bestow them. Their origin is still “We the People”.