On this anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights (December 15, 1791), we have reason to celebrate those first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which have served as guarantees of every American’s civil liberties—including freedoms of religion, the press, peaceable assembly, petitioning the Government for redress, etc.
Along with the clear articulation of “unalienable rights” in the Declaration of Independence, our country was founded upon ideals that are deeply embedded in the nation’s psyche. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are aspirations implicitly ascribed to every human being by those Founding documents.
While we are all aware of the imperfections and hypocrisies that have beset the political arrangements of America’s nearly 250 years, we also know that these United States have struggled mightily and valiantly to fulfill that destiny enshrined in those nearly sacred documents. A destiny of freedom and flourishing that has been granted to this most exceptional nation.
Unfortunately, it has become all too fashionable among certain elites to take aim at the exceptional qualities of our nation: the ideals of our founding, the struggles to fulfill those ideals, and the continued aspiration to produce “a more perfect Union.” For many of them, including the authors of the New York Times’ 1619 Project, the ideals of our nation’s Founding were cynical subterfuge for the perpetuation of the wicked, deplorable institution of slavery.
Numerous credible, reliable historians have spoken out against these misreadings and the distorted rendering of our national history. But, it probably doesn’t hurt to have a refresher. And, in this age of image-saturated presentations, it may be helpful to view a “short form” primer on our national ideal of “freedom for all.”
Of course, video clips will not suffice. We must do the hard work and the heavy lifting of careful, thoughtful scholarship to rebut the facile claims of ideologues. At the same time, we must sponsor a reflective, self-critical dialogue that helps cultivate a citizenry committed to those First Principles that precede our nation’s Founding—namely, the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
Such is the bedrock of our Bill of Rights, for which we give thanks this day.