On Our Bill of Rights Passed This Day in 1791
by Charles Lemos, Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 11:23:22 PM EST
After the ratification of the Constitution, the First United States Congress met in Federal Hall in New York. Many of the delegates demanded a "bill of rights" that would guarantee individual liberties and freedoms in face of the powers granted to the Federal government. James Madison, the principle author of the Constitution and then a member of the US House of Representatives, initially opposed such an idea but fearing that the arguments of the anti-Federalists might lead to a rejection of the Constitutional project he then wrote and submitted 17 articles of amendment on June 8, 1789.
The Senate took up the bill and reduced the number to 12, by combining some and rejecting others. The House accepted the Senate's changes, voting on September 24th and 25th, 1789. Twelve articles of amendment were sent to the states for ratification. The first two proposed amendments, which concerned the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified. Articles 3 to 12, however, were ratified over the next two years - 811 days to be precise and a number to bear in mind later - by three-fourths of the state legislatures, and now constitute the first 10 amendments of the Constitution. These amendments known as the Bill of Rights were ratified on this day in 1791.
We take these rights for granted all too often forgetting the long course of human history and the fact that these rights are not yet universal and remain denied across much of our world. But at the same time our American Revolution remains incomplete for we still suffer the tyranny of economic oppression and the obstruction of Senators who think themselves monarchs often acting more as ambassadors from entrenched and powerful interests then as true representatives of the people. This nation has long strived to provide a just and fair distribution of the national income and yet there are those who continued to advocate for the interests of the narrow and profane at the expense of the general welfare and ultimately against the national interest.
If today is a typical day in these United States that we all profess to love so much then today sixty of our fellow citizens will die for no reason other than for lack of health insurance. If today is a typical day in these United States, then 6,427 of our fellow citizens who more often than not actually have some insurance will file for medical bankruptcy. Most medically bankrupt families were part of our once broad middle classes before they suffered financial setbacks often through no fault of their own. Sixty percent of them had attended college and 66.4 percent had owned a home; 20 percent of families included a military veteran or active-duty soldier. Seventy-eight percent of the individuals whose illness led to bankruptcy had health insurance at the onset of the bankrupting illness; 60 percent had private insurance. Their pursuit of happiness denied to satisfy the avarice of a few.
If today is a typical day in the United States, a land of an unbelievable bounty, then today one in four children will not have had enough to eat. In 2008, nearly 17 million children, or 22.5 percent, lived in households in which food at times was scarce. What does it say about our nation and more acutely about our political leadership when we permit and they let nearly a quarter of our nation's children suffer from such want despite having the means to ameliorate such human suffering. If tonight is a typical night in the United States, then 200,000 veterans of our Armed Forces will sleep on the street or in a shelter. The main cause of their homelessness is not drug or alcohol abuse, their problem is part of a broader and more systemic one -the problem is stagnant income and a lack of affordable housing. These on-going economic problems reflect a lack of political will to tackle them and not a lack of a means or resources. The main cure for homelessness is affordable homes. Nine million low-income renter households nationwide pay more than half of their income for housing. In no community in the US today can someone who gets a fulltime job at the minimum wage reasonably expect to find a modest rental unit he or she can afford. We in these United States endure a life that no other advanced industrial society tolerates. It is not because we lack the resources but because we lack the political will to once and for all unshackle ourselves from the bondage of corporate servitude.
On January 11, 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed "the establishment of American standard of living higher than we have ever known before." His address that day in a State of the Union Address laid out a vision that included a second bill of rights for these United States that remains as yet unfulfilled thwarted now as then by a rightist reaction that seeks to perpetuate their power through monopolistic rent-seeking practices via a legislative fiat. In this nefarious scheme, they remain enabled by the poltroonery of our elected representatives who pretend to serve the national interest when in fact they exist but to serve the interests of those who finance their campaigns. The nation is, indeed, conscious of this fact.
This speech, reflective of long-cherished principles of the Democratic party, is as relevant today as it was then and I urge my fellow citizens, especially those who share the view a more noble cause does not exist than to ensure a fair society for only such a land is truly free, to take five minutes to listen to words that still speak to the promise of these United States.
The full text of President Roosevelt's State of the Union can be found at The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Archive at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The relevant excerpts are below.
It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people--whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth--is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights--among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however--as our industrial economy expanded--these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all--regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.
One of the great American industrialists of our daya man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of "rightist reaction" in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should developif history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called "normalcy" of the 1920'sthen it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.
I ask the Congress to explore the means for implementing this economic bill of rights- for it is definitely the responsibility of the Congress so to do. Many of these problems are already before committees of the Congress in the form of proposed legislation. I shall from time to time communicate with the Congress with respect to these and further proposals. In the event that no adequate program of progress is evolved, I am certain that the Nation will be conscious of the fact.
24,081 days have passed since FDR proposed this. How much longer must we the people wait for our elected representatives in the Congress to act or does the Congress yet defer to spirit of Fascism that still plagues these United States?