Monday, May 27, 2013

A New Bill of Rights for We the People

The current Bill of Rights concerned individual rights to be protected from the government. These rights were important at the time, when a war had recently been fought against the British monarchy. The American Revolution was a clash between those who believed that one class of people, the nobility, was superior to all others, and others who believed that there should be no perpetuated classses. This was the original meaning of the Declaration of Independence, when it declared that all men are created equal.

Authoritarian governments, like the English monarchy, recognized no rights among the people, only obligations. The people had the obligation to respect the sovereign, pay their taxes, and fight for him, if necessary. The American colonists objected to this view of their rights. Many of the colonies had been opposed to the English monarchy and nobility. They objected to the King's attempt to reclaim his full rights, especially the right to tax. The original Bill of Rights addressed the abuses of the monarchy.

Events that led to the American Revolution were imposition of taxes on Americans, who were not represented in the English parliament; reorganization or abolition of American governing bodies; quartering English soldiers in America for the purpose of maintaining a standing army, which could defend or control the colonists; and seizure of arms intended for militias.

Such were the events that still troubled the minds of the Framers of the Constitution in 1789. Such were the evils that the Bill of Rights was intended to combat. But these evils were shortly diminished or rendered harmless. Militias were replaced by a standing army. Representation was provided by a Congress elected every two years. The federal government has never reorganized a state government, except after a civil war. The standing army was never quartered on the populace. The amendments that refer to those ills are no longer relevant.

New ills have taken their place. First among these new ills is inequality between the wealthy and the poor, an inequality of opportunity and an inequality of power. The ills associated with industrialization are rampant: unemployment, dislocation, exploitation of labor, hunger. Corporations, monopolies, and cartels prey upon the people and control the government, the press, and the courts. New rights need to be guaranteed to counter these modern ills.

The starting point for the People's Bill of Rights is the Virginia Declaration of Rights, adopted by the Fifth Virginia Convention in June, 1776. This declaration of rights was echoed in the Declaration of Independence adopted at Philadelphia in the following month. The Virginia Declaration also influenced James Madison when he drew up the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

People's Bill of Rights

I. All people are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

This is the first article of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, here referred to as Mason's Declaration, except that the word “people” has been substituted for the word “men” in the first line. It was appropriated into the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson, with some important changes. Jefferson's Declaration states that man is endowed by his creator. Mason's Declaration requires no such divine entity. Jefferson's rights are inalienable; Mason's are inherent, and he describes precisely what Jefferson refers to as inalienable, that is, that the people cannot deprive their posterity of these rights by any compact. Jefferson mentions three inalienable rights, namely life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Mason defines these rights more succinctly as the enjoyment of life and liberty, and pusuing and obtaining happiness. Mason also adds to these the means of acquiring and possessing property, and the ability to pursue safety.

Dropping this article from the U.S. Bill of Rights has the effect of removing the guarantee of equality. Mason also makes clear that the government is us, not an entity that was created by us and then took on a life of its own. Mason makes the people themselves those who cannot deprive their posterity of these inherent rights. This distinction erases the artificial opposition of the government to the people.

This article also answers the question whether corporations are people: No, they are not. A corporation is an artificial association of people that does not exist in nature and therefore has no inherent natural rights. Corporations, like governments, are creations of the people and responsible to them.

II. All power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.

This article describes the kind of government this is, namely a democracy, since all power is vested in and derived from the people. It also describes the relationship of the government to the people, namely that the government is their creation and its functionaries are servants of the people. In a monarchy, such as Great Britain at that time, all power arises from the monarch, who is responsible only to himself. The people in a monarchy become the servants of the monarch, who can make laws and raise taxes as he sees fit, without their consent. The people have the right to petition the monarch, but cannot force him to alter his course. Any attempt to argue with the monarch is considered treason and can be severely punished. This is why there is no freedom of speech or of the press in a monarchy.

The framers of the Constitution were republicans, that is, they designed a republican form of government. In this sort of government, the people elect representatives who make all their decisions for them. The people become the servants of their representatives, who have all the power. The people hold elections, but the same people tend to return to power again and again, becoming a de facto ruling class, who are out of touch with the people they are supposed to represent.

III. Government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation or community; of all the various modes and forms of government that is best, which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety and is most effectually secured against the danger of maladministration; and that, whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.
This article reinforces the supremacy of the people over their government while it describes the attributes of a true democracy. Mason makes clear he does not necessarily favor a republican form of government unless a republic is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety and is most effectually secured against maladministration. The framers designed a republic that was inflexible and incapable of providing for the happiness of the people. Instead, the current Constitution guarantees the happiness of it rulers and gives them the power to threaten the safety of all. The waging of endless war, as some of our representatives favor, does not lead to the safety of the people; rather, it leads to an erosion of the civil liberties inadequately guaranteed under it. Civil liberties are seriously violated when the government can throw people in prison and hold them indefinitely without a trial, as is currently the case under our Constitution.

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