The drafting of our Constitution was a thrilling contest between men of great intellect and courage, who proposed to invest the spoils of their impossible Revolutionary victory in a quest for the ultimate meaning of liberty. Their gift to the ages… to all mankind… was defining the proper relationship between a just State and her people.
The Constitution they produced was a great achievement, but some felt it was not complete. Prominent among them was George Mason of Virginia. He was author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which influenced Thomas Jefferson’s work on the opening paragraphs of the Constitution. Section 1 of the Virginia document declares:
“That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of 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.”
Mason believed that a lawful State cannot compromise these inherent rights… and the people cannot give them away. It is the responsibility of a righteous State to deny any such corrupt bargain. It is the State which must be held accountable for making an infernal compact with a frightened or desperate people.
Unhappy with the Constitution as written, Mason left the Constitutional Convention. “It has no declaration of rights,” he complained. He rejected the arguments of Constitutional supporters that individual rights were adequately protected by the states. Thanks to his staunch insistence on a formal recognition of individual rights, the first ten Amendments to the Constitution were incorporated as the Bill of Rights. So important are these great Amendments to the character of our nation that if you ask the average person what the Constitution contains, they’re almost certain to quote from the Bill of Rights.
History has vindicated every one of George Mason’s arguments. It’s not his fault that his descendants haven’t taken good care of the priceless gift he insisted on leaving them. The State surrounding the Bill of Rights has grown massive and corrupt, but the ideas expressed by that document are still radiant as stars glittering above a tattered flag at twilight.
This Thanksgiving, I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Mason, James Madison, and the others they inspired, for the timeless gesture of respect they made to humble men and women, living in a distant age of possibilities and dangers beyond their wildest dreams… but not beyond their wise judgment. No amount of respect I could show them would be an equal gesture of esteem, but it is my honor and delight to make the attempt.
Thank you, gentlemen, for declaring that our government would never prohibit our free exercise of religion, or impose one upon us. Sadly, it does both of these things as a matter of routine. The primitive religion of the State is a crude belief in formless gods of nature, perpetually enraged at the attempts of average folk to provide a good life for their families, but eternally indulgent of the lavish lifestyles of our political and cultural elite. The rites of this religion are imposed upon students in the public schools, and its benedictions are written into our literature. It claims a staggering tithe from our incomes, and its senseless edicts dictate the manner in which we may light our homes. Its acolytes wrap themselves in a distorted language of science, but scream accusations of heresy at any who dare question them.
Thank you for respecting us enough to declare our right of self-defense. It would be a gesture of miserable contempt, for both our intelligence and safety, to require us to believe the State can protect us at all times, from all predators.
Thanks for respecting our integrity enough to declare that we would not be compelled to quarter troops in our homes, or submit to unreasonable searches and seizures. We are supposed to be immune to unwarranted accusations from a State that routinely treats us as criminals anyway. It hesitates to wantonly accuse us of crimes against one another, but it’s insanely jealous of its own interests. It presumes the guilt of even the most obviously innocent, when discretion is too much of a burden against the ideology of the ruling class.
Thanks for the assurance of our sovereign right to the fruits of our labor, and the property we purchase, which may not be taken from us without just compensation. The very existence of our modern leviathan State is based on the systematic violation of this right. The State positions itself above us as the arbiter of need, and rations property according to its concept of fairness, using envy and dependence as its instruments.
In the eyes of the Founders, free people were meant to judge the value of each other’s labor, through free commerce that benefits all involved, and produces both wealth and wisdom. Instead, we are told “democracy” means we can choose between a handful of candidates who will select the army of bureaucrats that weigh and measure our dreams. They tell us millionaire politicians are paragons of selfless virtue, while small businessmen are avatars of heartless greed, once their income reaches a certain magic number… which the State determines, according to its whim.
Absolute rights are replaced by limits and allowances. We are instructed to pretend that ambition through the exercise of ability is inexcusable, while ambition through the accumulation of power is invisible. We are told to hate the man who competes for your business, but love the man who controls your life. We are expected to fear the creative power of free enterprise, but worship the destructive power of compulsion.
When George Mason and his peers looked upon their new nation, they saw a people of such courage and dignity that even the demands of the most well-meaning elite should be rejected out of hand. They feared the Constitution might give birth to a benevolent tyranny, which they wrote the Bill of Rights to strangle in its crib… for they understood that benevolence dies of old age, while tyranny lives forever, until killed in battle.
Thank you, authors of the Bill of Rights, for inscribing the most brilliant law Man has ever devised: that the powers you did not explicitly grant to your new federal government would forever reside in the states, and their people. In passing this law, you decreed that the fate of your United States would be determined by generations yet unborn. You entrusted the future to men and women who would be born across a gulf of centuries, by ensuring they would decide what powers to invest in the central government. It would never be allowed to draw its own boundaries, or establish its own size. It would be dedicated to carrying out its duties to the states and people, not fulfilling its desires. It would never lay the dead hand of obligation upon children who were too young to vote against its unsustainable promises.
Our capitol city is named after the greatest of a mighty company, whose humility before the promise of power saved us from ever kneeling before a throne. The government seated there has become many things the Founders swore it would never be. The Bill of Rights is their oath. The duty of fulfilling it belongs to us. Some of us were born into that duty, while others honor the Constitution by crossing land and sea, to accept it voluntarily. May all find a comfortable place at our tables of Thanksgiving, beside the heroic spirits already seated there.