By Elaine Marie Cooper
My recent blog posts for Heroes, Heroines, and History have turned into a series. Why? Because never before in my lifetime, have the Amendments of the United States Constitution been teetering on the precipice of a cliff. It has become both alarming and anti-American.
I have covered the passage of the 12th, 13th, and 15th Amendments so far in my previous posts. Today, I’m going back to the First Amendment. Here is what it says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The right to freedom of religion—whether Christianity, Judaism, or any other group—was the whole basis for the founding of this country. When the Pilgrims escaped England in 1620, it’s because they were being persecuted for holding services contrary to the Church of England.
Many of the Pilgrims were members of a Puritan sect known as the Separatists. They believed that membership in the Church of England violated the biblical precepts for true Christians, and they had to break away and form independent congregations that adhered more strictly to divine requirements.
This did not sit well with the state religion (Church of England) that considered such “insurrection” as treason. Hence, the Separatists were willing to face a dangerous ocean voyage to start life anew in an unknown land.
The Pilgrims followed the Geneva translation of the Bible. They took seriously the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18:
(16) And what agrement hathe the Temple of God with idoles? for ye are the Temple of the living God: as God hathe said, I wil dwell among them, and walke there; and I wil be their God, and shalbe my people. (17) Wherefore come out from among them, and separate your selves, faith the Lord: and touche none uncleane thing, & I wil receive you. (18) And I wil be a Father unto you, and ye shalbe my sonnes and daughters, saith the Lord almightie.
One does not need to look far in the news to see the horror of persecution based on one’s religious beliefs. The First Amendment was written to protect this God-given right.
The Amendment also ensures the right to free speech. This includes speech that may be considered offensive to some, which can include everything from religious sermons to vile programs filled with foul language. It does not, however, protect someone from yelling “Fire!” in a crowd, which could obviously cause pandemonium and even death.
Freedom of the press ensures the right to publish and/or proclaim news that some believe but some may not. That is our right.
The right to petition government for redress of grievances is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of one's government, without fear of punishment or reprisals. For example, if a law comes up for a vote, U.S. citizens have the right to call their congress person representing their district to complain about the contents of said legislation.
One may ask why the United States Constitution was drafted in the first place. If you think back to U.S. History classes from long ago, you may remember an event called Shay’s rebellion that occurred in 1786 and 1787.
The newly formed United States was reeling from the huge debt incurred by the American Revolution that had ended in 1783. In order to head off a monetary crisis, the state governments raised taxes to the point that many lost their farms and businesses. The rural citizens made efforts to petition their state governments for help but to no avail.
In desperation and anger, the citizens of Massachusetts began attacking government buildings such as courthouses to rebel against these laws. It heated up to a full-blown rebellion in Springfield, MA led by Daniel Shays, the leader of the farmers’ cause. Shays was also a Revolutionary War veteran. Before the smoke cleared, 4 Americans were killed and 20 wounded. These were men who had just a few years before, had fought for this country. The revolutionaries were arrested and two were hanged. Most were eventually pardoned from their crimes.
But the threat posed by these events led to the retired General George Washington returning to public service and eventually, he was elected President of the United States. In order to strengthen the federal government, the Constitutional Convention was called in 1787. Their work established the specific powers of the federal government, including the separation of powers into three branches of government.
The Constitution was ratified in 1789 and these became the law of our land ever since. They are as alive today as when they were ratified.
You can read this article for more info about Shay’s rebellion:
Elaine Marie Cooper’s novel, Love’s Kindling is the second-place winner in Historical Romance for the 2020 Selah Award contest. Her most recent release is Scarred Vessels, which involves the slave trade in the Northeast during the Revolution. Like many of Cooper’s books, it focuses on the era of the American Revolution. She has authored several historical novels, a non-fiction memoir, and has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines. Although not a current resident of New England, Cooper’s heart for history was birthed there and continues to thrive. You can visit her website at www.elainemariecooper.com