The Bill of Rights is an important component of the U.S Constitution. They were written by James Madison in response to concerns raised by states about the lack of protection from the power of the federal government. The first ten amendments in the Constitution prohibit governmental power to protect liberties. The article examines the views of Alexander Hamilton (who opposed the Bill of Rights) and Thomas Jefferson (who was an ardent supporter of the Bill of Rights).
Hamilton viewed the Bill of Rights as unnecessary additions to the U.S. Constitution because he believed they had no purpose (Hamilton, 1788). Hamilton argued that the Bill of Rights was used between Kings and their subjects as means of administering certain privileges to the followers. The primitive signification of the bill of rights had no role in the American constitution that was made for the people and by the people. There was no power to relinquish because the people who elected had the power. Hamilton believed that bill of rights was dangerous to the United States citizens because of the implications of the law. It does not make sense to have exceptions to things that which are not granted. For example, it does not make sense to prohibit the restriction of press power when the current structure does not give powers to restrain the press. Hamilton asserted that the bill of rights would have forced the constitution to add these powers for the bill of rights to make sense.
We can do it today.
The primary point put across by Hamilton was that the bill of rights was an unnecessary requirement that would do nothing to improve a perfect constitution (Hamilton, 1788). The placement of exception to powers would prove destructive to the constitution because it would prompt the introduction of laws that provide too much power to the government. The constitution was perfect the way it has been formulated, and it made no sense to introduce the bill of rights.
The argument presented by Hamilton was funny and failed to capture the things that most Americans would consider important. An average American would have been interested in enjoying the freedom of speech, religion and other liberties without the fear of the powerful government put restrictions. Americans had suffered under the British Empire, and the thought of having all powerful government that could do anything it has the power to do was dangerous and scary.
On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson had a very different view of the Bill of Rights and their role in the constitution (Jefferson, 1787). It is pertinent to understand that the constitution was written when he was in France, but he still had adequate power to influence the constitution from far. Jefferson was a strong believer in the freedom of the press that could not be suppressed in any way because he perceived it as the organ that could be used to inform the people about the actions of the government. Jefferson and other anti-federalists were concerned about having an all powerful government after a painful experience under the rule of the British Empire (Jefferson, 1787).
Jefferson had a strong feeling about the absence of the bill of rights because he believed it is the only way for citizens to ensure that the powerful government does not take away important liberties. Thea argument that the constitution did not need the bill of rights because there was no power reserved failed to address the risks associated with the having a constitution that lacks directives that tell the powerful government what it cannot do. Jefferson’s argument is informed by experience and rational reasoning of what power can do.
A comprehensive analysis of Jefferson and Hamilton confirms that they are very different people with different experiences. Hamilton pointed out that his state New York did not have a bill of rights but if functioned very well. The argument is not informed by sound reasoning because it does not explain how the risks that were pointed by the supporters of the Bill of rights were real. Hamilton based his arguments on assumptions that bill of rights was not necessary. At one point he points the traditional function of the bill of rights cannot apply because the U.S. Constitution gives power to the people. Jefferson is adamant that the lack of the bill of rights is dangerous to all citizens. ‘
In conclusion, Jefferson and Hamilton present sound arguments based on experience and preferences. I find the argument of Jefferson compelling because it is based on real fears Jefferson does not focus on assumptions based on experience when he presents his arguments. He uses the British Empire as an example of what a powerful government can do if there are no checks to protect the fundamental liberties.
- Hamilton, A. (1788, May 28). Bil of Rights: Alexander Hamilton, Federalist, no. 84, 575–81. Retrieved from The Founder’s Constitution: http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/bill_of_rightss7.html
- Jefferson, T. (1787, December 20). To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 20 December 1787. Retrieved from Founders Online: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-10-02-0210