In the words of U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, two-time recipient of the Medal of Honor, in his speech to a Boston Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in August 1939, “There are only two things for which Americans should be permitted to fight, defense of home and the Bill of Rights.”
The Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, is a document cited as often as forgotten. I have attempted to use the Founding Father’s words to address the First, Second and Fourth amendments in terms of their current controversy.
Former President George Washington, said in a 1783 meeting of officers in Newburgh, N.Y., that the First Amendment, our right to free speech and a religion of our choosing, is imperative because, “If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
The distinction of church and state originates from the letters of former President Thomas Jefferson. But Washington also addressed it in his “Farewell Address.”
“Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle,” Washington said.
The Second Amendment, our right to bear arms, as described by former President Thomas Jefferson in an 1824 letter to English naval Maj. John Cartwright, as “(Americans’) right and duty to be at all times armed.”
Washington also addressed gun manufacturing.
“(Americans’) safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent,” Washington said in his 1790 “First Annual Message to Congress.”
Madison explained in “The Federalist Papers No. 46” that the right to be armed is an advantage Americans have over almost every other nation where the “governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”
The Fourth Amendment is the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Former President John Adams said citizens are obliged to this right while addressing taxation in his 1779 draft of the Massachusetts Constitution,
“(The citizen), is obliged, consequently, to contribute his share to the expense of this protection … But no part of the property of an individual can with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent,” Adams said.
We keep the words of our forefathers because they guide us through times we could not have foreseen and remind us of who we are and why we do the things we do. These were their words, and as you listen to the final weeks of the campaign, keep the words of the men who gave us this nation with you.
Remember foremost Madison’s remark within an 1822 letter to W. T. Barry, “A people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”