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A Reflection on Our Nation’s History: The Bill of Rights and How Its Amendments Came To Be

Reflecting on the past year, it can certainly feel that the nation is more divided than ever. From the turmoil that resulted from an emotional and tumultuous election to recent gun shootings, all the while with the threat of natural disasters and climate change hanging over everyone’s heads. During these hardships, it’s important to take a step back and think about how this great nation came about. The struggles America’s founders endured and the documents they wrote were intended to ensure that the United States of America is a country that is fair and just to everyone yet these amendments had consequences and the issues that affected colonists have modern implications today.

“Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men without a consequent loss of liberty!” once said Patrick Henry, a prominent orator in Virginia who made essential contributions to contemporary legislative order by insisting the need for a Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is a document that protects the people’s most basic individual rights and freedoms-many of which the colonists were deprived of under British rule as illustrated in the Declaration of Independence. It consists of the first ten amendments to the Constitution without which the basic structure of society, and America’s defining ideals of freedom and liberty, would collapse.

“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power” states the Declaration of Independence and fundamentally guiding one preeminent event to mind. March 5, 1770, marked a catastrophic event that forever changed the nation’s course of history: the Boston Massacre.

The protests began as colonists gathered around a Boston customs house to call insults at the British guards manning the building. The rabble grew and the people began jettisoning all manner of items, from snowballs to oyster shells, towards their oppressors, refusing to be hindered by their lack of ammunition and weaponry. The soldiers panicked at the sudden loss of control and began firing into the crowd at random in an effort to regain command over the horde. When the smoke cleared, there on the pavement lay five maimed corpses as an example of the consequences wrought upon those who defied British rule.

The Boston Massacre was a vital component in the establishment of the Second Amendment which outlines an individual’s Right to Bear Arms and states that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The lack of armament on the colonists’ side provided no opportunity for defense from the British attack, inequitably so. Without adequate defense, the colonists were not only unable to protect themselves from the soldiers’ incessant shooting but were left, as a whole, to the mercy of oppression from an all-powerful government that openly transgressed its people’s rights without batting an eye. Thus, the Second Amendment was forged from the perils of defenselessness and infringing of rights by the British; ensuring both individual protection from external hazard as well as the prerogative of a state to possess its own trained militia as protection against a dominant federal government.

In 1765, the Quartering Act was passed by British Parliament requiring “the colonies to house British soldiers in barracks provided by the colonies.”

Already enduring the tribulations of the Stamp Act, the New York assembly viewed this act as an additional example of taxation without the people’s consent and refused to comply with the standards outlined by the Parliament. Britain dismissed the assembly and proceeded to send two regiments of British soldiers to fortify the buildings customs officers were being housed in. This only provided a daily reminder of the tyranny continually imposed on the people implacably, elucidated in the Declaration’s accusation, “For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us”. The people’s anger at the obligatory housing of their oppressor’s militia fueled the creation of the third amendment which states, “no soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house without the consent of the Owner”.

The amendment guarantees the unlikely repetition of the Quartering Act but also holds some modern implications of domestic privacy — an individual’s protection from government institution in one’s home.

Another paramount instance of a British grievance engendering a key concept in the Bill of Rights is the Townshend Acts of 1767 — particularly the Writs of Assistance. The Townshend Acts taxed goods such as glass, paper, paint, and lead and essentially established an alternative method of taxation that contravened much more than taxation without representation; emphasized not only in the Declaration’s statement, “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent” but its overall principle of liberty. The Writs of Assistance sanctioned the inspection of a ship’s cargo without reason, violating the rights of colonists as British citizens under British law a valid reason for suspect was required in order to search a citizen’s home.

This acute case of malefication regarding privacy perfectly illustrates the requisite for the Fourth Amendment which declares, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, papers, houses, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”. The amendment prohibits the search and seizure of people, their property, and their homes by limiting the power of the police- therefore preserving an individual’s privacy and restricting the government’s authority.

The amendments to the Constitution play a key role in preserving the nation’s liberty by safeguarding the people’s basic rights and freedoms that are continually denied to mankind throughout history. Though forged through hardship and peril, the Bill of Rights emerged as an integral component to the structure of society and the upholding of the nation’s ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  However, as the nation delves into a modern era of technology and battles with racial and political divides, America once again struggles to remain a nation that ensures the rights and liberties of its people. As Patrick Henry declared, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

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I am a freshman attending high school in Michigan. It is my dream to become a journalist and I aspire to study journalism at NYU.

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