Saturday, December 15, 2007

217 Years Ago


On this day, 217 years ago, the Bill of Rights became law. This was the culmination of literally decades of struggle dating back all the way to the Declaration of Independence. After eight years of bloody conflict, combined with several more years of civil discontent, the United States had finally created a system of laws that proctected individual liberty. James Madison, the origonal mastermind of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, was able to push this document to the forefront of governmental affairs. For the longest time most of America's early leaders wanted nothing to do with a Bill of Rights, but Madison would not take no for an answer. His political genious and tireless effort finally got the Bill of Rights to be accepted. This document has maintained some of our basic freedoms (more or less) for over two centuries.

22 comments:

Lindsey Shuman said...

Except let us keep in mind that the Bill of Rights did little to nothing for Blacks, women, Native Americans, etc. Your point is valid that the Bill of Rights should be remembered, but we can't forget that the document did nothing for a huge amount of the population.

Brian Tubbs said...

Don't forget George Mason's contributions to the Bill of Rights. Were it not for his principled refusal to sign the Constitution and his joining forces with Patrick Henry and the anti-Federalists after the Convention, it's unlikely that James Madison would have sponsored the Bill of Rights. (That he did so was due to a promise he made during the ratification debates - a promise he made to the anti-Federalists).

Brian Tubbs said...

Lindsey, you need to read "Vindicating the Founders" by Thomas G. West.

Mabry said...

Gosh, I love the Anti-Federalists with their somewhat just claim that the Philadelphia Convention was a cabal. Patrick Henry has to be my personal favorite of these impassioned individuals. About West, I have thumbed through "Vindicating" and found some arguments just and some stretched. Dr. West has a very conservative viewpoint, he is a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute after all. Living and teaching in the Dallas area I have also had the opportunity to meet him. Oh, back to the Bill of Rights, Madison did borrow huge chucks from Mason in its authorship. We must also remember that some states, like, um-huh, Georgia did not ratify them until 1939.

Lindsey Shuman said...

I'm with Mabry on this one..."Vindicating the Founders" is WAY too conservative. He's a good writer, but I could only get through a couple of chapters...I just get fed up with the overly stretched conclusions he makes. Virtually every book review in William & Mary Quarterly gives him low marks. It is important that we consider the fact that Blacks, women, etc did not benefit from much of the American Revolution. I understand that it is not popular to talk about, but it is nonetheless the truth.

As far as George Mason goes, I agree with everything stated...no need to repeat it!

Brad Hart said...

Interesting debate. First off, I want to say that I dislike both conservative and liberal views of history. I think they are based too much on a particular agenda. With that said, I think that the book Brian mentioned deserves a little defense. Though it is primarily conservative (and I personally think it exaggerates a few points), I think it points out some important issues to look at. If i'm understanding Brian right (and correct me if I get it wrong, Brian), he is simply trying to say that we should not automatically throw the Founding Fathers under the bus because of the racial or gender issues of their time. I think he has a good point.

Of course Lindsey is right when she states that African Americans, women and other groups were denied a tremendous amount of rights in the early years of the United States. Nobody can or should deny that. But are the Founding Fathers exclusively to blame?

Your thoughts...

Raven said...

The Founding Fathers should take most of the blame. Who else should? Didn't they own slaves? Didn't Abigail Adams ask her husband not to forget the women? And did he??? YES!!!!

Brad Hart said...

Yes Raven, most Founding Fathers owned slaves. This observation, however, does not signify that the Founders were inherently failures. It is true that we should remember the shortcomings of the American Revolution (and there are many) but it is also imperative that we remember all of the great achievements that were made. Never before had anything like the American Revolution taken place on the planet. It is a wonderous accomplisment.

You are right to remember the shortcomings of our Founding Fathers (and the revolutionary generation in general). By taking note of where they went wrong, we have been able to make this nation better. We must not, however, ignore their great contributions. We revere the American Revolution and its participants because they accomplished something truly amazing. Why else would it be such a popular topic?

Mabry said...

Alright, I happened to be reading the "Notes of the Federal COnvention of 1787" recently and have a few words. I remember that some delegates actually did not want to get mired in the issue of slavery and many felt that it would be abolished by the natural actions of the states. It was already banned in the Northwest Territory and several other states. Virginia had tried to do so at some point prior to the Revolution. You will recall the part about human "trafficking" that was purposely cut out of the Declaration at the insistence of the Southern delegates.
It was the same at the Constitutional Convention. I would not go so far as to say that most of the delegates owned slaves. All of the Virginian delegates did, certainly. And, of course, it was the main sticking point for the delegates from Georgia and South Carolina, particularly Gen. Pinckney.
We can blame the founders for not adressing the issue. But if they had, I mean really had, we would certainly have lost Georgia and South Carolina from the convention. Should we abolish slavery at the price of saving the nation? That was a fight for a later generation. The Fpunders have to shoulder some responsibility but cannot be blamed for wanting to save our nation even at the cost of continued human bondage, which every delegate knew had a time limit.
West does have something to contribute but it is a politcally charged view.
About women's rights, I agree with John Adams in his reply ti his wife. And it has been a cause to inspire future generations of women...all the way to the current female presidential candidate. and the first female Speaker of the House.

Brad Hart said...

Great point Mabry. When are you going to join us as a contributor???

I do want to pose a question though. You stated that had the slavery issue been truly addressed by the delegates at the convention that we would have surely lost Georgia, and South Carolina. Have you by chance ever read "Race and Revolution" by Gary Nash? He has some very interesting things to say about Georgia and S. Carolina. According to Nash, Georgia and the other southern states had been so demoralized from the war that they desperately needed the help of the federal government. Nash's opinion is that the southern states (Georgia and S. Carolina specifically) would have joined the union even if slavery had been abolished. It's an interesting perspective, one that I think doesn't receive a lot of attention.

David Mabry said...

I have not read Nash. I am still working on Wood, Ferling, Freeman, Morgan, Bailyn and Rakove. I have just started David Stewart's "The Summer of 1787". I am in chapter four and have really learned nothing new yet. He is really not a bad writer for an attorney. I plan to read the new Ellis over Christmas break. So many books and so little time.

Brad Hart said...

I know what you mean about having so much to read, but no time. By the way, welcome to the blog! We look forward to your postings. The more people with insight the better!

Lindsey Shuman said...

Well I think this posting wins for most comments! I just want to clarify a few points I made. First off, I never stated that the Founding Fathers deserve all of the blame for the wrongs of their era. I just hate it when we neglect to tell the truth about them. We should not ignore the slavery issue.

As far as Gary Nash goes, I actually had the chance to read two of his books: "The Forgotten Fifth" and "Race and Revolution." I have to say that I completely agree with him. Nash makes some very compelling arguments. I know I will catch some heat for saying this, but oh well...here it goes...

The old addage that the southern states would have never joined the union without a constitutional protection of slavery is bogus! Nash gives ample evidence to refute this. Keep in mind, Jefferson's bill to abolish slavery completely from the states only lost by 1 vote. Also, Nash mentions that the southern states were in such financial distress that they had no choice but to join the union. Also, the Indian threats to the southern frontier were very real, and those states needed federal protection. There was never a better time in American history to end slavery.

Ok...have at me now!!! =)

Steve Becknall said...

I'm really upset that I missed most of this debate!

Ok Lindsey, Gary Nash makes some great points. I doubt anyone here would consider themselves smarter than Nash, but here is my take:

If a guarantee for the protection of slavery was never a major issue for the South, then why would James Madison state that the slavery issue was the main source of contention at the convention? Also, why create the 3/5 compromise?

I think Nash would say that the North simply chickened out, or something along those lines. That just seems too simplistic for me.

I will say though that I completely agree with you about the Bill or Rights, Constitution, etc. It is very important for us to recognize the fact that women, African Americans, Native Americans, and others were denied their basic rights for a very long time.

Brian Tubbs said...

I thought Thomas G. West stretched things on some of the points he made concerning women. But I think his case was rock solid on slavery.

Overall, I think Thomas G. West's treatment of the founding is much more accurate than Howard Zinn's.

Brian Tubbs said...

This is a really strong issue for me. I'm going to post a link to a YouTube video I did on this subject.

Raven, with all due respect, you canNOT lay all the blame on the Founders for these types of issues. You've got to look at the context of the time period and the society that they inherited.

Raven said...

Sorry Brian Tubbs, but West is as worthless as Zinn. They are both to politically motivated to be taken seriously.

Brian Tubbs said...

Raven, I would agree that both Zinn and West are politically motivated. But being biased and/or politically motivated doesn't make one "worthless."

For all my criticism of Howard Zinn, I will acknowledge that he does - at the core - bring an important contribution to the study of history. I've read his People's History, and did learn some things from it. He's not "worthless." But, obviously, I found myself put off by his tone and lack of balance.

As for West, I'm not sure that a person warrants being dismissed because they are "conservative." Respectfully, if that's where you're coming from, then I think you're doing what you are criticizing West for. I say that respectfully. I appreciate debating with you on this issue.

Brian Tubbs said...

Lindsey and Brad, I need to read more of Nash's perspective. The Colliers in their book Decision in Philadelphia talk about this as well.

I think that the Deep South WOULD have walked away from the Constitutional Convention if the North had pushed for an abolition of slavery. However, I do think that the North could've pushed more aggressively on other matters. Why wait until 1808 to ban the slave trade? And why agree to the 3/5 compromise? And even if you're going to accept a 3/5 compromise, why not limit that arrangement as well (just like they did with the slave trade moratorium)?

I think the anti-slavery delegates compromised too quickly on those points. So, I'll agree with you, lindsey, on that. But I strongly disagree that they could've abolished slavery. That just wasn't going to happen in the 18th century.

Lindsey Shuman said...

Brian:

I think you would really like Nash. He is a terrific hisorian. Try his book, "The Unknown American Revolution" first.

samantha_kearney said...

Nash is a terrific historian. America would not be what it is today had it not been for the founding fathers. Although they may have owned slaves we can not deny what they did.

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