Friday, June 18, 2010

An Overview of the First Amendment by David Barton

The prominent characteristic of the emerging national government during and after the American Revolution was the strong ardor of the people and the states to protect their traditional powers and rights from the national government. History and experience had both proved that centralized government power could be a source of tyranny and abuse, so under early national government (such as the Articles of Confederation), policies were enacted not by the concurrence of a simple majority but rather by a three-fourths supermajority, thus allowing states easily to block the action of the entire national government if they believed their own rights or powers were being infringed.

From this backdrop, delegates were selected from the individual states and sent to a national gathering in Philadelphia in 1787. That assembly (now called the Constitutional Convention) produced a new federal government, but it also generated an element of strong opposition. Several delegates, believing that the Constitution contained insufficient barriers to prevent the federal government from usurping state authority in a number of areas, refused to sign the document.

This group (known as the “Anti-Federalists” and led by delegates such as George Mason, Luther Martin, John Francis Mercer, and Elbridge Gerry and joined by prominent Founding Fathers such as Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, and Patrick Henry), warned Americans that unless specific amendments were added to the Constitution to limit the powers of the new federal government, it might invade and usurp the rights of states, communities, and individuals.

For example, Samuel Adams warned: I mean to let you know how deeply I am impressed with a sense of the importance of Amendments, that the good people may clearly see the distinction for there is a distinction between the federal powers vested in Congress and the sovereign authority belonging to the several states, which is the Palladium the protector of the private and personal rights of the citizens. When the states assembled conventions to ratify the new federal Constitution, those conventions resounded loudly with the Anti-Federalist arguments.

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