Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Federalist 84 Hamilton Opposes a Bill of Rights for Good Reason
Constitution.org ^ | 1788 | Alexander Hamilton

Posted on 07/30/2009 5:02:27 AM PDT by Loud Mime

We now see people clamoring for their right of health care, their right of same-sex marriage, their right to reveal information that will damage national security and so on. None of these rights are listed in our first ten amendments, yet the claims continue unheeded. Such claims were forecasted by several of the founding fathers; Alexander Hamilton penned his thoughts on the dangers of a Bill of Rights in Federalist 84.

What follows here is a small section of the essay. Prior to this section he sets a foundation for his argument that is worthy of serious study.

“I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason, that the Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication, that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it was intended to be vested in the national government. This may serve as a specimen of the numerous handles which would be given to the doctrine of constructive powers, by the indulgence of an injudicious zeal for bills of rights.”

The entire essay is HERE.

I have often wondered what would have happened if the founders had listed a set of laws defining the limits of government without calling it a bill of rights. Perhaps a section on rights and another on limitations would have worked? After all, the term "bill of rights" is a reference point made by people; it is not an expressed term in the Constitution.

Here is a larger section, to give some context:

“It has been several times truly remarked that bills of rights are, in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgements of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince. Such was MAGNA CHARTA, obtained by the barons, sword in hand, from King John. Such were the subsequent confirmations of that charter by succeeding princes. Such was the Petition of Right assented to by Charles I., in the beginning of his reign. Such, also, was the Declaration of Right presented by the Lords and Commons to the Prince of Orange in 1688, and afterwards thrown into the form of an act of parliament called the Bill of Rights. It is evident, therefore, that, according to their primitive signification, they have no application to constitutions professedly founded upon the power of the people, and executed by their immediate representatives and servants. Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing; and as they retain every thing they have no need of particular reservations. "WE, THE PEOPLE of the United States, to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Here is a better recognition of popular rights, than volumes of those aphorisms which make the principal figure in several of our State bills of rights, and which would sound much better in a treatise of ethics than in a constitution of government.

But a minute detail of particular rights is certainly far less applicable to a Constitution like that under consideration, which is merely intended to regulate the general political interests of the nation, than to a constitution which has the regulation of every species of personal and private concerns. If, therefore, the loud clamors against the plan of the convention, on this score, are well founded, no epithets of reprobation will be too strong for the constitution of this State. But the truth is, that both of them contain all which, in relation to their objects, is reasonably to be desired.

I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason, that the Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication, that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it was intended to be vested in the national government. This may serve as a specimen of the numerous handles which would be given to the doctrine of constructive powers, by the indulgence of an injudicious zeal for bills of rights.

On the subject of the liberty of the press, as much as has been said, I cannot forbear adding a remark or two: in the first place, I observe, that there is not a syllable concerning it in the constitution of this State; in the next, I contend, that whatever has been said about it in that of any other State, amounts to nothing. What signifies a declaration, that "the liberty of the press shall be inviolably preserved"? What is the liberty of the press? Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitude for evasion? I hold it to be impracticable; and from this I infer, that its security, whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution respecting it, must altogether depend on public opinion, and on the general spirit of the people and of the government.3 And here, after all, as is intimated upon another occasion, must we seek for the only solid basis of all our rights.

There remains but one other view of this matter to conclude the point. The truth is, after all the declamations we have heard, that the Constitution is itself, in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, A BILL OF RIGHTS. The several bills of rights in Great Britain form its Constitution, and conversely the constitution of each State is its bill of rights. And the proposed Constitution, if adopted, will be the bill of rights of the Union. Is it one object of a bill of rights to declare and specify the political privileges of the citizens in the structure and administration of the government? This is done in the most ample and precise manner in the plan of the convention; comprehending various precautions for the public security, which are not to be found in any of the State constitutions. Is another object of a bill of rights to define certain immunities and modes of proceeding, which are relative to personal and private concerns? This we have seen has also been attended to, in a variety of cases, in the same plan. Adverting therefore to the substantial meaning of a bill of rights, it is absurd to allege that it is not to be found in the work of the convention. It may be said that it does not go far enough, though it will not be easy to make this appear; but it can with no propriety be contended that there is no such thing. It certainly must be immaterial what mode is observed as to the order of declaring the rights of the citizens, if they are to be found in any part of the instrument which establishes the government. And hence it must be apparent, that much of what has been said on this subject rests merely on verbal and nominal distinctions, entirely foreign from the substance of the thing.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Government; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: constitution; federalist; federalistpapers; lping; rights
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041-52 next last
Hamilton is so focused on the beauty of his new Constitution that he does not fully consider the dangers that would rise from the document's ambiguities. But he was correct in his assertion that the Bill of Rights would provide a foundation for rights not granted.
1 posted on 07/30/2009 5:02:28 AM PDT by Loud Mime
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Loud Mime
But he was correct in his assertion that the Bill of Rights would provide a foundation for rights not granted.

The government does not grant rights. It recognizes them.

2 posted on 07/30/2009 5:07:47 AM PDT by Maceman
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Vision; definitelynotaliberal; Mother Mary; FoxInSocks; 300magnum; NonValueAdded; sauropod; ...

Ping

When liberals claim they have a right to health care from the federal government, cite Federalist 84 and watch the deer in the headlights.


3 posted on 07/30/2009 5:08:36 AM PDT by Loud Mime (Change over to the F-Bulbs- Enjoy the toxins!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Maceman
The government does not grant rights. It recognizes them.

It does both.

4 posted on 07/30/2009 5:15:29 AM PDT by Loud Mime (Change over to the F-Bulbs- Enjoy the toxins!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Loud Mime

Anytime I discuss the first ten amendments to the Constitution, I always refer to them as the “Bill of Prohibitions”. As correctly stated above, no government can grant rights. Governments often do their best to suppress natural rights, and the “Bill of Prohibitions” lists rights that our government is specifically prohibited from trampling upon.

I’d never thought about the dangers of specifically listing these prohibitions, but then again, I’m constantly amazed at how timeless the thoughts and actions of our founders were.


5 posted on 07/30/2009 5:23:21 AM PDT by ConservativeAtLast
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Loud Mime

If we had followed the Constitution any of our present socialists laws would of had to be done by amendment. How far Commie would we of gone if all this crap had to be ratified by 2/3 of State legislatures. No we had a good system. Unfortunatly it is history. None of this Communism would be possible if we had of stayed with the us Constitution. We are going to pay a terrible price. There is no good outcome possible at this point.


6 posted on 07/30/2009 5:23:53 AM PDT by screaminsunshine (!!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: ConservativeAtLast

Government can grant rights within a legalistic framework; it’s their laws and their power to exercise.

The Second Amendment is a good example.


7 posted on 07/30/2009 5:30:29 AM PDT by Loud Mime (Change over to the F-Bulbs- Enjoy the toxins!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Loud Mime

The Ninth and Tenth SHOULD have covered everything he was worried about.

Notice something in the present debates over health care and cap & tax -

NO ONE is arguing that the fedgov is not Constitutionally authorized to do these things. It’s as if the Constitution is now a dead letter... which, indeed, it is in the minds of the statists.


8 posted on 07/30/2009 5:32:21 AM PDT by MrB (Go Galt now, save Bowman for later)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Loud Mime; Maceman

No, it does NOT. Rights are INHERENT, endowed by the Creator. Government is not a power that has capability to confer rights on humanity.

Perhaps you need to re-read this document and the Declaration of our founding...for clarity.


9 posted on 07/30/2009 5:32:47 AM PDT by bamahead (Avoid self-righteousness like the devil- nothing is so self-blinding. -- B.H. Liddell Hart)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Loud Mime

I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years, and I’ve concluded that we were screwed either way. The only safeguard against the gubmint is a populace that jealously and vigilantly guards and preserves its own freedom. Short of that, scheming politicians, lawyers, and thieves will always find a way to have their way.


10 posted on 07/30/2009 5:34:28 AM PDT by Huck ("He that lives on hope will die fasting"- Ben Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: screaminsunshine
The failure of our government may be traced back to the 17th Amendment; the States lost their Senators. Those Senators became party-rats instead of Statesmen. The decay took time to spread its roots and then attacked our government with socialist laws and incredible debt.

There is more to this; I'll have it in September.

11 posted on 07/30/2009 5:35:01 AM PDT by Loud Mime (Change over to the F-Bulbs- Enjoy the toxins!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: Loud Mime
Government can grant rights within a legalistic framework; it’s their laws and their power to exercise.

This is the Liberal viewpoint...oft stated publicly by the likes of Obama, and John Kerry.

Any Conservative worth his salt will tell you exactly the opposite. We are not the government's subjects, for it to grant and remove rights as it sees fit. Those rights are embedded in our own humanity.
12 posted on 07/30/2009 5:35:57 AM PDT by bamahead (Avoid self-righteousness like the devil- nothing is so self-blinding. -- B.H. Liddell Hart)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: Abathar; Abcdefg; Abram; Abundy; akatel; albertp; AlexandriaDuke; Alexander Rubin; Allerious; ...
It appears some here need a refresher on the Constitution, folks



Libertarian ping! Click here to get added or here to be removed or post a message here!
(View past Libertarian pings here)
13 posted on 07/30/2009 5:37:30 AM PDT by bamahead (Avoid self-righteousness like the devil- nothing is so self-blinding. -- B.H. Liddell Hart)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: bamahead
No, it does NOT. Rights are INHERENT, endowed by the Creator. Government is not a power that has capability to confer rights on humanity. Perhaps you need to re-read this document and the Declaration of our founding...for clarity.

Rights that are inalienable are not the government's to grant. If they were, they could just as easily be revoked by the same government.

If you can direct me to language in the Constitution or the Declaration that references the government granting rights, I will appreciate the education.

14 posted on 07/30/2009 5:39:49 AM PDT by Maceman
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: Loud Mime
The failure of our government may be traced back to the 17th Amendment; the States lost their Senators.

I'm with you on that one. There was a post a few days ago discussing exactly this.

How the 17th Amendment Has Stolen Your Freedom
15 posted on 07/30/2009 5:40:55 AM PDT by bamahead (Avoid self-righteousness like the devil- nothing is so self-blinding. -- B.H. Liddell Hart)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: Maceman; Loud Mime

I agree with you 100% Mace. I think you want the other guy to point that out to you.


16 posted on 07/30/2009 5:42:36 AM PDT by bamahead (Avoid self-righteousness like the devil- nothing is so self-blinding. -- B.H. Liddell Hart)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

To: Loud Mime

ding ding ding.................we have a winner!!!!


17 posted on 07/30/2009 5:47:26 AM PDT by joe fonebone (When you ask God for help, sometimes he sends the Marines.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: bamahead

I acknowledge your belief that rights are inherent; and yes, I have read the Declaration carefully and I study the Constitution and our history of abusing it.

Your point that government is not a power that has a capability to confer rights on humanity is partially valid. But there is more to the argument.

George Washington: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

I believe I made it clear by putting my remark in the context of law. You put yours in a theological context. Please reconsider your argument with those differences in mind. We are talking of two different authorities. Despite your adherence to one, I believe it is prudent to admit that both exist and that both have the power to enforce their will in ways that they see fit.


18 posted on 07/30/2009 5:52:20 AM PDT by Loud Mime (More government jobs and benefits and more unemployment sets the stage for real disaster)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: bamahead
Government can grant rights within a legalistic framework; it’s their laws and their power to exercise.

This is the Liberal viewpoint...oft stated publicly by the likes of Obama, and John Kerry.

----------------

It depends on the laws enacted and power exercised, doesn't it?

19 posted on 07/30/2009 5:56:26 AM PDT by Loud Mime (More government jobs and benefits and more unemployment sets the stage for real disaster)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: Loud Mime
When liberals claim they have a right to health care from the federal government, cite Federalist 84 and watch the deer in the headlights.

LOL! I never bother citing anything. Just say CONSTITUTION...and their eyes glaze over . :-)

20 posted on 07/30/2009 5:57:22 AM PDT by MamaTexan (If you think calling me a 'birther' will make me stop defending the Constitution........think again!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]


Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041-52 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson