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Thread: On Jeffersonian Rights

  1. #1
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    Default On Jeffersonian Rights

    All interested:

    In another thread on these boards, a poster recently lamented about King's decision to donate the proceeds from 'Guns' to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, writing: "I could not believe that someone that should understand the basic premise of the First Amendment could so decide that the Second Amendment should be trampled upon," before really winding up and delivering this bit: "however that is a pretty bad [argument] imo, and a big step for someone to take that again… should understand the dangers of incrementally removing a Right... a sacred right, until it is left in tatters and is no longer a right at all." The poster then goes on to conclude: "You say that you want to provoke a constructive debate, however by promoting that the proceeds will go to a political entity that is very much a member of the political discourse, you are not provoking a constructive debate at all, but instead are chooses sides along political lines in a very political way... for when you have already drawn the line in the sand and chosen your side…the debate is already closed." An interesting set of statements, in light of current events.

    This got me thinking about the issue of rights and how the notion of Americans having "sacred rights" arose in the first place. It all began in 1775 when abolishionist Anthony Benezet founded the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage
    . It was the first first anti-slavery society in North America, and it was fully funded by the Quakers, but received significant moral support from England, France and the Canadas (all nations having recently renounced slavery as immoral and unChristian, although actual laws specifically prohibiting slavery and the international trade of slaves were slow to follow - Upper Canada in 1793; France in 1794; England in 1833). Benezet, who was born in France, immigrated to America in 1731, joining the Quaker commune at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was 18 years of age, and was soon to befriend John Woolman, another Quaker, and together they were soon advocating war tax resistance and conscientious objection to any civil action that was in seeming violation of George Fox's famous oath: "I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars... I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were." For Quakers such as Benezet, the only life worth living was the sacred life; the only religion was deist.

    And so young Benezet worked tirelessly to persuade fellow Quakers (and Americans at large) that the slave-trade was not consistent with fundamental Christian morality (though the doctrine of the Bible's Old Testament was clearly not against the ownership of slaves, and the New Testament clearly asserts that both slaves and free persons are sons of God, and thus all part of the body of Christ and spiritually equally even if on Earth they are not so treated). After the events that became known as the Boston Tea Party (1793), Britain cracked down on the colonies by ending self-government in Massachusetts and placing it under the direct control of the British army with General Thomas Gage as de facto military governor. In April 1775, Gage learned that weapons were being secretly gathered in Concord, and he sent British troops to seize and destroy them. Informers sympathetic to the rebel cause warned the Americans of Gage's plans, and a local militia (ironically outfitted, employed and trained by the British during the French and Indian wars, and financed by the burdensome taxes that Boston Tea Party was protesting) was speedily rallied. This militia confronted the British troops and both sides exchanged fire at Lexington and Concord. Gage was appalled, and sped a letter off to the Prime Minister - events were now determined.

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    Default Re: On Jeffersonian Rights

    (continued)

    After repeated pleas to the British monarchy for favorable intervention with Parliament, any chance of a compromise ended when the American Congress was summarily declared traitors by royal decree (by this time, George III was sinking further into insanity, and almost all his decisions were, in fact, made from him, not by him). The Americans responded by declaring independence: the American colonies were now in open revolt against the sacred person of the monarch.

    And so, to explain this watershed moment, the Declaration of Independence was produced. The significance of the Declaration is its direct refutation of the rationale that provided King George with his throne: The King of England asserted his sovereignty was established over all citizens through the "sacredness of his person" as established by the Church-ratified "divine right of kings." The authors of the Declaration - Thomas Jefferson being the principal author - argued all civil liberties (including the right of revolution against a sitting monarch) are based on natural and self-evident truths, with the greatest of these truths being "...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

    This view of human rights asserts that fundamental rights are not granted by a divine or supernatural beings (or a Being) to monarchs who then grant them to subjects, but are granted by a divine or supernatural being to each man (but not woman) and are inalienable and inherent. You'll notice no reference is made to the Bible (or any other sacred or philosophical writing for that matter) - Jefferson, who was surprising reticent about his own religious leanings, was frequently accused by contemporary Christians as being an atheist, a deist and - horrors of horrors - a materialist and secular humanist. Modern attempts to portray Jefferson (among the other founding fathers) as "Christian" generally fall fail, however, as Jefferson himself considered Christ a deist, and not a Son of God. In a letter to his friend Joseph Priestly, for example, Jefferson wrote "I have reflected often on it since, and even sketched the outlines in my own mind. I should first take a general view of the moral doctrines of the most remarkable of the [ancient] philosophers, of whose ethics we have sufficient information to make an estimate,... I should then take a view of the deism and ethics of the Jews, and show in what a degraded state they were, and the necessity they presented of a reformation. I should proceed to a view of the life, character, and doctrines of Jesus, who sensible of incorrectness of their ideas of the Deity, and of morality, endeavored to bring them to the principles of a pure deism, and juster notions of the attributes of God, to reform their moral doctrines to the standard of reason, justice and philanthropy, and to inculcate the belief of a future state. This view would purposely omit the question of his divinity, and even his inspiration. To do him justice, it would be necessary to remark... that his system of morality was the most benevolent and sublime probably that has been ever taught, and consequently more perfect than those of any of the [ancient] philosophers." To Jefferson, the sacred life was the life lived morally.

    After the Revolutionary War, the former thirteen colonies, free of England, passed through a pre-government phase of ratification and organization that lasted more than a decade, with much of the on-going debate concerned with what form of government the United States would form. In 1787, a representative republic was ratified, and several rights and civil liberties established; the Constitution significantly referred to "Persons", not "Men" as was originally used in the Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, the Constitution omitted any reference to the supernatural (such as a "Creator" or "God") and any authority derived or divined there from. The Constitution thus eliminated any requirement of supernatural grant of human rights and provided that they belonged to all Persons of legal standing (presumably meaning men and women, and perhaps children, although the developmental distinction between children and adults poses issues and has been the subject of subsequent amendments).

    Some of this initial conceptualization predictably arose from the significant Quaker population of the colonies, especially in the Delaware Valley, and their religious views that all human beings, regardless of sex, age, or race or other characteristics, were made of the same spiritual stuff. Consequently, Quaker and Quaker-derived views have influenced the drafting and ratification of the Constitution, including individuals John Dickison and Thomas Mifflin. Significantly, Dickinson, Mifflin and other Framers (such as Thomas Paine, who wrote "Common Sense") who objected to slavery were outvoted on that issue, and the original Constitution sanctioned slavery (although not based on race or other characteristic of the slave) and, through the "Three-Fifths Compromise", counted as slaves (who, again, were not defined by race, but by terms of law) as three-fifths of a Person for purposes of distribution of taxes and representation in the House of Representatives (although the slaves themselves were discriminated against in voting for such representatives).

    (continued)

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    Default Re: On Jeffersonian Rights

    (continued)

    As the new Constitution took effect in practice, concern over individual liberties and concentration of power at the federal level, gave rise to the amendment of the Constitution through adoption of the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments of the Constitution). Predictably, courts and legislatures also began to vary in the interpretation of "Person," with some jurisdictions narrowing the meaning of "Person" to cover only people with property, only men, or only white men. Curiously, women had been voting in some states, such as New Jersey, since the founding of the United States, and prior to that in the colonial era, but were denied the vote in other states. In 1756, for example, Lydia Chapin Taft voted, casting a vote in the local town hall meeting in place of her deceased husband. In 1777, however, women lost the right to exercise their vote in New York and other states soon followed with similar legislation - a predictable course of law-making; all the elected legislators were males.

    In the 1860s, after decades of conflict over southern states' continued practice of slavery, and northern states' outlawing it, the Civil War was fought, and in its aftermath the Constitution was amended to prohibit slavery and to prohibit states' denying rights granted in the Constitution. Among these amendments was the Fourteen Amendment, which included an Equal Protection Clause which seemed to clarify that courts and states were prohibited in narrowing the meaning of "Persons". After this amendment was adopted was adopted, Susan B. Anthony, buttressed by the equal protection language, cast her first vote. She was prosecuted for this, however, and ran into an all-male court ruling that women were not "Persons"; the court leveed a fine but it was never collected.

    Fifty years later, in 1920, the Constitution was amended yet again, with the Nineteenth Amendment to definitively prohibit discrimination against women's suffrage. In the 1970s, a series of rulings followed that clarified the position of women being Persons - the courts determined previous efforts to deny women the vote were violations of the Constitution and were nothing more than an abuse of power.

    This brings me to a brief discussion of the Second Amendment, and its rationale. As we all know, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights wherein it is stated that the people of America have the right to keep and bear arms. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights. Further, in 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States determined that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess and carry firearms separate from those arms that would be legally carried by a member providing service to a citizens' militia. In 2010, the Supreme Court furthered this interpretation: the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. Furthermore, the many longstanding prohibitions and restrictions on firearms possession (as previously listed by legislators) were entirely consistent with the Second Amendment.

    In short, weapons deemed prohibited by legislators, and users wishing to procure or own those prohibited weapons, are protected by the Bill of Rights or the Constitution. Furthermore, it ought to be acknowledged (once again) that the rights and liberties of Americans are not sacred, they're not derived from some supernatural presence, but are "Natural rights" that are derived from public process, and are maintained through a social compact wherein all citizens sacrifice something of their individual liberty in order to enjoy the privileges of belonging to a functioning society. Consequently, there will be times when the social compact is altered to fit the requirements of the citizenry at large. One can warn take a stand against the "tyrannies of the majority and those with power and influence" - the earliest Americans certainly did - but this is the sort of thing that the exercise of democracy requires: input from all.

    The poster whom I quoted earlier made a comment concerning "the dangers of incrementally removing a Right," and I would agree - certainly, when slaver were granted their freedom and women were granted universal suffrage, the rights of those who lost their privileges were endangered. But, then, the rights of those who were empowered were probably of greater numbers. As for the poster's summation - "You say that you want to provoke a constructive debate, however by promoting that the proceeds will go to a political entity that is very much a member of the political discourse, you are not provoking a constructive debate at all, but instead are chooses sides along political lines in a very political way... for when you have already drawn the line in the sand and chosen your side…the debate is already closed," the quality and soundness of the rhetoric speaks for itself. This is not to dismiss the poster's comments lightly, so much as to point out several essential contradictions contained within the poster's argument that invalidate his logic.

    In closing, all I will say in response to the poster is this: perhaps you should have read King's essay before determining its merits solely because the proceeds from the sale of 'Guns' were to be given to a foundation you disagreed with politically and, perhaps, philosophically.

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    Default Re: On Jeffersonian Rights

    Very interesting. Although perhaps not as catchy as Schoolhouse Rock. Tell us more.

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    Default Re: On Jeffersonian Rights

    Well said, sir. Well said indeed.

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    Default Re: On Jeffersonian Rights

    Whoops... just noticed a serious error in one of the above paragraphs - the sentence ought to read: "In short, weapons deemed prohibited by legislators, and users wishing to procure or own those prohibited weapons, are not protected by the Bill of Rights or the Constitution."

    Yoikes! And I was being careful this time too! Sorry 'bout that!

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    Default Re: On Jeffersonian Rights

    Quote Originally Posted by Amphiaraus View Post
    Whoops... just noticed a serious error in one of the above paragraphs - the sentence ought to read: "In short, weapons deemed prohibited by legislators, and users wishing to procure or own those prohibited weapons, are not protected by the Bill of Rights or the Constitution."

    Yoikes! And I was being careful this time too! Sorry 'bout that!
    I saw that but figured out what you meant. All around an excellent effort!

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    Default Re: On Jeffersonian Rights

    Quote Originally Posted by Todash View Post
    Very interesting. Although perhaps not as catchy as Schoolhouse Rock. Tell us more.
    I love Schoolhouse rock!!

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    Default Re: On Jeffersonian Rights

    Quote Originally Posted by Todash View Post
    Tell us more.
    <mischievously> Happily, I would... but for some inexplicable reason, posts on Stephen King's Message Board are limited to 6,000 characters per post. Go figure. Also, I'm typing these little missives o' mine out on an iPhone, and would dearly love to see King adopt this way of writin' too! It's challenging... why climb a local hill when Everest beckons?

    *thinks for a moment*

    On second thought... maybe not. I wants me 'Doctor Sleep' and 'Joyland' before the dawn of the 22nd Century.

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    Default Re: On Jeffersonian Rights

    Quote Originally Posted by Amphiaraus View Post
    the sentence ought to read: "In short, weapons deemed prohibited by legislators, and users wishing to procure or own those prohibited weapons, are not protected by the Bill of Rights or the Constitution."
    I'm pretty sure it was correct the first time. The 2010 ruling showed that the right to keep and bear arms protects against state infringement as well as federal. It's a large part of the reason why a Chicago handgun ban was struck down.

    It did reiterate that convicted felons and the mentally ill are prohibited from owning firearms, and it maintained that background checks are legal, but I don't believe that the decision anywhere mentioned prohibited weapons.

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