Rights secured with Congress’ gift

Elected representatives haggled about wording. Special interests threatened to benefit some and ignore others. If they were not careful, efforts to make life equal could actually result in identical hardship. And if an agreement was not reached by the end of that year living standards and liberties for working people might have been lost.

Political parties debated regarding the document in question. Some said it would give the federal government too much power. Others thought it lacked specificity.

Even when it was accepted in a final form, and while it was masterfully composed, cultural traditions and societal standards created prejudicial lines that separated many residents from the document’s spirit for the next two centuries.

A newly elected Congress had drafted the Bill of Rights on Dec. 25, 1789, but it was not until the state of Virginia ratified the document on Dec. 15, 1791 that a required three-quarters majority was secured to pass the first 10 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The First Amendment is the establishment clause that includes free speech, a free press, the right to assemble, and freedom of religious expression.

The Second Amendment states that citizens have the right to own firearms.

The Third Amendment restricts the posting of soldiers in private homes.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.

The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process of law by protecting citizens from self incrimination or double jeopardy, and limits eminent domain.

The Sixth Amendment offers the accused a speedy, public trial and right to legal counsel.

The Seventh Amendment guides the terms of civil litigation and insures that final decisions will stand.

The Eighth Amendment forbids excessive bail or fines and prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

The Ninth Amendment supports rights not specified in the Constitution but considered consistent with the rule of law.

The Tenth Amendment proclaims that the rights of states will not be restricted by the federal government and that protections listed in the Constitution apply to citizens of individual states.

The 112th Congress takes office on Jan. 3, 2011. As returning representatives and new members look toward that transition date, it would be good for them to set a priority and give those they represent the gift of serious consideration regarding 10 standards their ancestral predecessors set 219 years ago today.