Sunday, October 28, 2007

Prophecies From the First Congress

Who needs Nostradamus? I've found some very amusing statements by members of the First Congress in debates about amending the Constitution.

You may be aware that James Madison's initial proposal for what became the Bill of Rights involved adding in the various clauses into the original Constitution. Most of what we recognize as the first drafts of the Bill of Rights were to be inserted into Art. I, sec. 9, between clauses 3 and 4--which are both protections of individual rights from the federal government.

Instead, Rep. Roger Sherman (CT) who was an opponent of a Bill of Rights, argued on August 13, 1789 that they should not “interweave” the amendments into the original Constitution, Madison expressed his concern that his approach, interweaving, would simplify understanding:
We shall then be able to determine its meaning without references or comparison; whereas, if they are supplementary, its meaning can only be ascertained by a comparison of the two instruments, which will be a very considerable embarrassment. It will be difficult to ascertain to what parts of the instrument the amendments particularly refer; they will create unfavorable comparisons; whereas, if they are placed upon the footing here proposed, they will stand upon as good foundation as the original work.[Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 1st Cong., 1st sess., 734-6.]
When you read the rather bizarre claims that the antigun sorts make about the meaning of the Second Amendment--that it was intended as a protection of states rights, not of individuals--you can see that Madison was right about the effect that it would have.

Another astonishing prophecy comes from Rep. Fisher Ames (MA). There was a prolonged discussion about whether one member of the House for every 30,000 people, or every 40,000. The House in the First Congress had a bit more than one hundred members; now it has 438.

The number of proper characters to serve in the Legislature of any country is small; and of those, many are inclined to pursue other objects. If the representation is greatly enlarged, men of inferior abilities will undoubtedly creep in.... [Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 1st Cong., 1st sess., 748-9.]
Oh, and anyone interested in the religion clause of the First Amendment should read Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 1st Cong., 1st sess., 757-8, where members of the House tell us what they meant, and some expressed concern that exactly how the ACLU has misused the establishment clause might take place.

No comments:

Post a Comment