From the The Liberator Online, newsletter of the Advocates for Self Government
There are two significant Bill of Rights milestones to celebrate this week. Today (Dec. 5) is the 81st anniversary of the repeal of the 18th Amendment, prohibition. Dec. 15 is Bill of Rights Day, commemorating the day in 1791 when the Bill of Rights went into effect.
Just three years before repeal in 1933, the “Father of National Prohibition” and author of the 18th Amendment, Texas U.S. Sen. Morris Sheppard, had said, “There is as much chance of repealing the 18th Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.”
"I love that quote," said Sharon Harris, Advocates for Self Government president. "Those of us fighting to end the War on Drugs can take heart from it."
When Sen. Morris made his declaration, Prohibition had been a part of U.S. law for nearly a decade. It must have seemed to many to be a permanent fixture of American life.
In a Cato Institute study "Alcohol Prohibition Was a Failure" economist Mark Thornton sums up the bitter fruit of this disastrous policy:
"Although consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it subsequently increased. Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became 'organized;' the court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point; and corruption of public officials was rampant. No measurable gains were made in productivity or reduced absenteeism. Prohibition removed a significant source of tax revenue and greatly increased government spending. It led many drinkers to switch to opium, marijuana, patent medicines, cocaine, and other dangerous substances that they would have been unlikely to encounter in the absence of Prohibition."
Prohibition also created a massive prison state. "By 1932 the number of federal convicts had increased 561 percent, to 26,589, and the federal prison population had increased 366 percent. ... Two-thirds of all prisoners received in 1930 had been convicted of alcohol and drug offenses, and that figure rises to 75 percent of violators if other commercial prohibitions are included."
Sound familiar? Alcohol Prohibition offers a powerful, profound and easily understood example of the dangers of government social engineering. It's a lesson Americans need to hear.
Bill of Rights Day
Far too many Americans are also unaware of the second milestone, officially proclaimed in 1941, States, cities, and counties across America have passed resolutions honoring Bill of Rights day. Some classrooms will hold special Bill of Rights Day classes, and some citizens and organizations will celebrate Bill of Rights Day.
The Bill of Rights is, of course, the great protector of American liberties. It boldly declares that people have certain inalienable rights that government cannot abridge — fundamental rights like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, and more. It also provides procedures for defending those rights — such as fair trials and limits on federal power.
The Bill of Rights doesn't belong just to America. It has inspired freedom fighters around the world. The Founders viewed their Revolution as the first blow in a struggle to win liberty for all the people of the world. So the Bill of Rights is truly a document for everyone.
Thomas Jefferson made this clear in a letter to James Madison, December 20, 1787: "A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference."
Use Bill of Rights Day to teach family, friends, neighbors and others about our precious heritage.
It's a great time for a letter to the editor discussing the vital importance of our Bill of Rights freedoms, and urging citizens to speak out against current calls to sacrifice liberty for (alleged) security.
With fundamental Bill of Rights freedom under unprecedented assault in recent years, this has never been more important.
To help with that, here's a short summary of the Bill of Rights, prepared several years ago by students at Liberty Middle School in Ashley, Virginia. (I've added just a few words for clarification.) While this condensed version doesn't have the majesty, depth and detail of the entire document, it is short and easy to understand, and may be useful to you in discussions and letters:
THE BILL OF RIGHTS
- Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to assemble peaceably, right to petition the government about grievances.
- Right to keep and bear arms.
- Citizens do not have to quarter soldiers during peacetime.
- No unreasonable searches and seizures.
- Rights of the accused.
- Right to a fair trial.
- Right to a trial by jury in civil cases also.
- No cruel and unusual punishments.
- Unenumerated rights go to the people.
- Reserves all powers not given to the national government to the states or the people.
All Americans should be familiar with their Bill of Rights freedoms. Sadly, numerous surveys indicate most are not. Indeed, as journalist James Bovard has pointed out, a 1991 poll commissioned by the American Bar Association found only 33 percent of Americans surveyed even knew what the Bill of Rights was. In one Gallup poll 70 percent did not know what the First Amendment was or what it dealt with.
As Adam Summers of the Reason Foundation observed in The Libertarian Perspective:
“The Founders must be spinning in their graves. Nearly everything the government does today is unconstitutional under the system they instituted. Governmental powers were expressly limited; individual liberties were not. Now it seems it is the other way around.
“If the Bill of Rights is to regain its meaning, we must rededicate ourselves to the principles it asserts and be mindful that a government powerful enough to give us all we want is powerful enough to take away everything we have.”
Let it begin with you. This December 15 is a great time to remind all Americans that we are, as the National Constitution Center puts it, a nation of “Bill”-ionaires.