Test your knowledge of the United States Constitution by answering “true” or “false” to the following statements.
The constitution grants you the following rights:
- To freedom of religion
- To freedom of speech
- To a free press
- To peaceably assemble
If you answered “true” to each of these statements, then congratulations, you have answered 100% incorrectly! The United States Constitution grants you no such rights, as you shall soon discover.
Each of the original Thirteen Colonies had their own legislatures, many had their own currency, and all governed as sovereigns with their commonality being allegiance to the British monarchy. The Second Continental Congress realized the time had come to seek independence, and so it appointed a committee on 11 June 1776 to draft a declaration of independence. A second committee was appointed the next day to draft a constitution for a new government based on a confederation.
On 15 November 1777, the Second Continental Congress approved the drafted constitution and sent it to the states for ratification. The ratification process languished during the Revolutionary War, but the constitution was eventually ratified by all states near war’s end. This first constitution of the United States of America came into effect on 1 March 1781 and is known as the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. It created a loose confederation of sovereign republics (the states).
Having just freed themselves from the tyranny of the British Crown, the states were not eager to enslave themselves to a new national government with controlling powers. Accordingly, the Articles of Confederation granted very limited authority to the Congress of the Confederation, and almost no authority to enforce any of its decisions. As such, the Articles were flawed as an instrument of government, and they created divisions amongst several states that could not be resolved by the national government.
In February 1787, the Congress of the Confederation approved a plan to address the deficiencies in the Articles. The Congress called for a convention to be convened at the State House in Philadelphia on the second Monday of May for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation. What became known by various names—such as the Grand Convention, the Philadelphia Convention, and the Constitutional Convention—began on Monday, 14 May 1787. Only a handful of state delegates had arrived by the 14th, so the work of the convention could not proceed. It was not until 25 May 1787 that delegates from a quorum of seven states had arrived and the business of revising the Articles commenced. Rhode Island boycotted the convention because they did not want the Articles to be revised.
What began on 25 May and ended on 17 September 1787 was, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist #1, an answer to the question of “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”
What did the delegates do at this convention that elicited this observation from Hamilton? The delegates scrapped the Articles of Confederation and crafted an entirely new constitution based on a different form of government; a federal constitutional republic. This new constitution proposed the creation of a national government with specific and limited powers to protect the principles of the American Revolution, as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. Article I of the proposed constitution created the legislative branch; Article II created the executive branch; Article III created the judicial branch; Article IV outlined the relationships between the states and the states with the federal government; Article V described the process for amending the constitution; Article VI concerned national debts; and finally, Article VII described the process for ratifying the proposed constitution.
Noticeably absent from the drafted constitution was an individual Bill of Rights. The original Articles of Confederation contained no Bill of Rights because the form of the national government—a confederation—granted no governing authority over individuals; it simply codified the relationship amongst the states. Individual rights were codified within the constitution of each state.
George Mason was a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention and author of the document known as the Virginia Declaration of Rights. This document, written in 1776, proclaimed the natural rights of men and had been incorporated into the Virginia constitution. George Mason strongly felt that a Bill of Rights should be included in the proposed constitution because of the increased power granted to a new central government. So vehement was George Mason in this point of view that he was one of three delegates who refused to sign the final constitution because it did not contain an individual Bill of Rights.
The Constitutional Convention adjourned on 17 September 1787, and the work product, the United States Constitution, was sent to the individual states for ratification. Unlike the original Articles of Confederation, a unanimous consent by the states was not required for ratification. Only nine states were required to ratify the constitution for it to become effective, which occurred on 21 June 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth ratifying state.
George Mason’s arguments eventually held sway and the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the constitution became a precondition for Virginia’s ratification. James Madison, borrowing from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, introduced a proposed Bill of Rights on 8 June 1789. Finally, on 15 December 1791, more than four years after the Constitutional Convention adjourned, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, became effective when Virginia ratified the amendments.
Now back to the false statements in the quiz. The First Amendment specifically states the following:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
You incorrectly applied the purpose of the United States Constitution if you answered “true” to the statements in the quiz. The United States Constitution grants you absolutely nothing. To the contrary, it is a grant of authority by “We the People,” through our state legislatures, for the federal government to exist. Further, it is a grant of authority by we the people for the Congress to perform only specific tasks on our collective behalf. The powers we granted to the Congress are enumerated in Article I, Section 8, of the constitution. Beyond these powers, Congress has no legal authority whatsoever to act on our collective behalf.
The Bill of Rights—and more specifically, the First Amendment—does not grant you the expressed freedoms in the quiz. These expressions of liberty were granted to you by your Creator, or as Thomas Jefferson stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The First Amendment and the constitution in general impose constraints on the federal government so that it does not infringe upon our unalienable rights. This, by definition, is the meaning of a constitutional republic: our elected representatives must govern according to constitutional law that limits the government’s power. Read the First Amendment again—it grants you nothing. Instead, we the people through this First Amendment have prohibited Congress from making law that would infringe upon these natural rights of liberty.
The politicians in Washington have turned the constitution upside down. They scheme to rule every aspect of our lives and refuse to be limited by the constitutional constraints we imposed upon them. Like the pilot who meticulously goes through the pre-flight checklist routine and only later realizes that the fuel tanks were half empty, the oath taken by the Washington politicians to defend and uphold the constitution has become nothing more than a meaningless ritual. And also like the mindless aviator, the politicians are piloting this country to eventual destruction.
Now, a majority of politicians reason that the constitution is flawed because it only grants “negative rights,” what the government cannot do to you. Instead, these politicians arrogantly lament the absence of “positive rights,” what the government must do for you. It is through the application of this faulty academic reasoning that politicians justify their routine violation of the public oath to uphold the United States Constitution.
We the people must recommit ourselves to an understanding of the principles and purpose of our founding documents if we are to save this federal constitutional republic. The preamble to our constitution starts with We the People. It is time for us to reassert that the only powers granted to the federal government are those we specifically enumerated. The government has no authority to grant itself any other powers or impose upon our unalienable rights, because the positive rights the federal government would like to force upon us are not rights at all, but the tyranny the Founders fought to drive out of this land. Had the Founders simply wished to replace British tyranny with their own, they would have started the preamble with We the Government.