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12.1 Perspective on Civil Liberties

The English colonists who came to America in the 17th and 18th centuries had the idea of a specific and formal listing of personal rights upon which government could not encroach. Though the Declaration of Independence drawn up by them in 1776, is not a specific catalogue of civil liberties, it does contain concepts having a bearing on civil liberty and authority in its famous second paragraph. The original Constitution of 1787 clearly stated in its Preamble that one of the fundamental purposes of the Constitution is "to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." However the American Bill of Rights 1791, containing the first ten amendments to the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment, are a distinctive contribution to government as well as an example followed by many subsequent framers of constitutions.


12.1a The Bill of Rights

The American people drafted a basic charter of liberties, which is embodied in the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment lays down the basic freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. The Second and Third Amendments deal with the right to bear arms and the quartering of soldiers. Amendments Four through Eight establish the just procedures to be followed in the treatment of persons accused of crime. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments reaffirm the principle that the federal government has limited powers.

However not all civil liberties are found in the Bill of Rights. They are interspersed throughout the Constitution. Through the Bill of Rights limits only the national government, most of its important provisions are duplicated in the constitutions of most of the states. Initially the people considered the Bill of Rights to be protected against the abuses of the federal government. However the national government, responsive to tens of millions of voters from a variety of races, creeds, religions and economic groups, showed less of a tendency to curtail civil liberties than the state governments, where judges were not inclined to enforce the rights vigorously.

However the listing of civil liberties is a dynamic process. Public opinion, formal amendments and statutes continue to make additions to them. For example, women now have the right to vote. The Wagner Act of 1935 is regarded by labor as its ’Magna Carta.’ The Atlantic charter recognized the Four Freedoms of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Owing to change in social problems and public opinions, freedoms expand and contract.

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Index

12.0 Introduction
12.1 Perspective on Civil
12.2 The First Amendment:Freedom of Religion
12.3 The First Amendment:Freedom of Speech
12.4 The First Amendment:Freedom of Press
12.5 The Rights of Defendants
12.6 Implied Rights

Chapter 13





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