Franklin, NC -- (ReleaseWire) -- 04/24/2017 -- As the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention recessed in 1787, the delegates were reasonably confident that their work on a strong national constitutional form of government with separation of powers and checks and balances would be easily ratified. As delegates began to arrive home, however, they were hit with a "firestorm". They had not put in a Bill of Rights with freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, trial rights, the right to bear arms and the many rights we value today.
"Wasn't this tyranny all over again," many asked? Before the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention ended, George Mason, a delegate from Virginia, began arguing for a Bill of Rights. Elbridge Gerry presented the motion but Federalists like James Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton and most other delegates thought the separation of powers and other checks on power protected the people's rights sufficiently. They argued that if they put in more rights, it would suggest citizens did not already have these rights and many feared freedom of expression and a free press.
George Mason of Virginia had authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights and felt the proposed US Constitution left out the very freedoms we had fought the Revolutionary War to gain. As the delegates at the convention decided against a Bill of Rights, thirteen unhappy delegates left the convention early. George Mason and Edmund Randolph of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts remained but refused to sign.
The Anti-Federalists urged their state conventions not to ratify the proposed Constitution because a strong central government without a Bill of Rights would permit tyranny. Thomas Jefferson, who was minister to France and out of the country, stated that he did not oppose the proposed U. S. Constitution, but affirmed that it needed a Bill of Rights. Anti-Federalists Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee from Virginia along with George Clinton of New York and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts were so effective in arguing that liberties and freedom would be lost without a Bill of Rights that ratification in Virginia, New York and Massachusetts were threatened. North Carolina flatly refused to ratify until a Bill of Rights was passed.
James Madison and other key Federalists at last agreed that the first priority of the new US Congress would be to propose and pass a Bill of Rights, which led to the passage of the new US Constitution. James Madison led the successful effort to establish a Bill of Rights as the new US Congress convened.
The passage of a Bill of Rights was a turning point in our history. We had learned without a strong, vocal minority our rights of freedom of religion, freedom of press and assembly, the right to bear arms, the right to petition the government, the right to a fair trial, as well as rights reserved to the people and states would have been lost. A small persistent minority is always the starting point of a better community.
About Gordon Mercer
Gordon Mercer is on the Board of Trustees of Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society and professor emeritus at Western Carolina University. Marcia Gaines Mercer is a published children's author and columnist.
By Gordon Mercer and Marcia Mercer
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