Political Issues
Bill of Rights

Arguments against the United States Bill of Rights



Bill of Rights
Jerry Curtis's image for:
"Arguments against the United States Bill of Rights"
Caption: Bill of Rights
Location: 
Image by: Not applicable - Clip Art

Arguments against the Bill of Rights were a hot issue way back in late 18th century American politics. There was a faction in the struggle to get the new U.S. Constitution ratified and it was led by none other than that Arch-Federalist Alexander Hamilton. He was the leading opponent to the adoption of the Bill of Rights. He had both general and specific arguments against trying to devise a document that was broad enough to list everyone’s rights, so, as is reasoning went, why list any? Otherwise the government might be able to violate any rights that were not listed.

Who could argue against the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to our Constitution and the foundation of personal protections against oppressive government? Today, nobody would dream of criticizing these important rights, which, among other things, include the right to say what we want and to attend (or not to attend) any church. Likewise, our criminal system has at its basis the protection of the rights of an accused, and those safeguards arise directly from our Bill of Rights. No one can force an accused to sign a confession; an accused cannot be held in jail without being brought to a speedy trial, and the trial must be by jury.

But Hamilton had his reasons:

1. The government had no interest and was too far away from individuals. Our nation was sufficiently diverse and our federal government was complex enough to protect individual rights. Government was too remote from the individual to be able to bother trampling on people's rights.

2. The Constitution, as written was already sufficient. The body of the Constitution already protected a number of specific rights, for example, habeas corpus, rules against ex post facto laws and bills of attainder (i.e., passing a law against a specific individual), trial by jury in states where a crime is committed, etc. Hamilton viewed a of Rights as an unnecessary add-on to a document that was intended to run a Government, not coddle its citizens.

3. Who ever violated the people’s rights could be thrown out of office. A Bill of Rights was unnecessary in a nation where the people have the right to remove officials from office. A public official who oppressed his constituents did so at the peril of his office.

4. The Constitution gives the congress specific powers. There is absolutely no need to list the rights Congress cannot violate, because Congress does not have the power in the first place. (This was a rather circular argument, and illustrated Hamilton's disdain for the common citizen, who had more to watch out for than congressmen violating their rights.)

5. The more rights that are listed, the more dangerous and ineffective the Bill of Rights may become. Governments always abuse rights that are NOT listed, because the right may not be on the list.

The argument was settled through political compromise.

As it turned out, Hamilton and the Federalists had to accommodate the concerns of Thomas Jefferson and his Anti-Federalists in order to get the whole Constitution ratified. James Madison, considered the "Father of the U.S. Constitution," also drafted the Bill of Rights. The foundation of our civil liberties are enshrined as the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, despite the objections of Hamilton and his Federalist cohorts.

 

More about this author: Jerry Curtis