It was in September of 1789 that the First Federal Congress of the United States approved 12 amendments to the Constitution that had only been ratified two years earlier.
We have been hearing a lot about our Constitution in the news lately. People are talking about following it and interpreting it and violating it. There are those who consider themselves to be constitutionalists – adherents or advocates of constitutionalism. Constitutionalism is defined as “a compound of ideas, attitudes, and patterns of behavior elaborating the principle that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law.”
As much as we revere those “founding fathers” and framers of the Constitution, it didn’t take long for some of them to believe that the Constitution had some flaws and gaps that needed to be amended. It was not perfect. It could be improved.
George Mason was a statesman and delegate from Virginia and he was not happy at all with the United States Constitution. Now, he had helped craft it, but he saw too much power concentrated in central government authority. He didn’t see protections for individual rights. On September 15, 1787, the final vote was made to approve the Constitution, and Mason was one of only three who protested. Patrick Henry didn’t feel the Constitution offered enough safeguards against tyranny.
Mason and other “anti-Federalists” called for a “bill of rights” to be added to the document. They were able to, over the course of the next two years, bring Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison over to their view. Madison introduced a set of 17 amendments to Congress in 1789. Those were trimmed to 12 which were approved on September 25 and sent to the states for ratification. The required two-thirds of the states only ratified ten, which became our Bill of Rights.
Those amendments include a citizen’s right to freedom of religion, speech, assembly, a well-organized militia, and a speedy and public trial, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, excessive bail, the quartering of troops, and self-incrimination.
Article Ten declares that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
The two failed amendments were about a formula for determining a minimum number of seats in the House of Representatives, and one that prohibited Congress members from voting to raise their own pay without allowing their constituents to have a say in that raise.
There was no statute of limitations on ratifying the original 12 amendments, and that pay raise amendment finally got pushed through on May 7, 1992. It took more than 200 years after it was originally proposed, but those politicians got their right to give themselves more money without our permission. Yes, the Constitution is a living document.