LETTER TO THE EDITOR: At first, no Bill of Rights — with a reason

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In terms of the Constitution’s meaning, I am always in agreement with Andrew P. Napolitano, but as a constitutional historian, I do take issue with his recent column, “A president who would mock the faith of nuns” (Jan. 16). In the piece, Mr. Napolitano writes, “When the Framers were putting together the Constitution in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, they knew the states would not adopt it without written guarantees that the new central government would respect natural rights.” The Framers knew no such thing that summer. They deliberately did not add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution because they thought it was both unnecessary and dangerous.

It was unnecessary, they thought, because the new government that the Constitution created was one of expressly stated and limited powers. This government had the power to do only the things the Constitution said it could do, and nothing more. So, for example, since the Constitution did not give the government the power to curtail speech, there was no need to include language in a bill of rights that forbade the government from doing so.

A bill of rights was dangerous, they argued, because no such list could possibly include every right the people possessed. Thus, the government might eventually conclude that the rights not included were rights the government could ignore.

It was only after they submitted the Constitution to the states for ratification, and the people mightily protested the lack of a written bill of rights, that the Framers realized what a mistake they had made in not including one in the Constitution. Then they quickly promised to introduce the Bill of Rights in the first Congress created under the Constitution.



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