Friday, December 16, 2016

A day-late happy birthday to the Bill of Rights (and what happened to the two "lost" amendments?)


As the Inside the Apple "Postcard Thursday" post notes, the original Federal Hall was torn down in 1812, eventually replaced by the building we know as Federal Hall National Memorial, seen below. [Click to enlarge.]

by Ken

Since it looks as if, whatever "change" is in store for us in our bold new political future, it's not going to include overmuch worrying about rights, except insofar as they apply to (a) rich folks and (b) the crackpot Right (who of course have become skilled at turning rights like that of free speech to advance their own in the interest of suppressing actual free speech), as the new movers-and-shakers feel a need to placate them for continued support. So, even a day late, I thought we should take a look at the latest "Postcard Thursday" post from Michelle and James Nevius, the Inside the Apple team, authors of Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City, a wonderful guide-and-history book I've written about a number of times, and Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers, a series of moments in the city's history viewed around their key actors.

Though it's hard not to think that we ought to be lighting a candle to the memory of the Bill of Rights, we can instead stick one on a cupcake, as a representative of the full 225, to celebrate one of our crucial founding documents.
Postcard Thursday: Happy 225th Birthday to the Bill of Rights

New York was only the capital of the United States for a brief time, but many important things happened during the city's tenure as the seat of government. Perhaps none is more central to our daily lives than the passage of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

The Bill of Rights [warning: PDF], primarily written by future president James Madison, was designed to address what were seen as deficiencies in the Constitution, especially among anti-Federalists, who thought the original document ceded too much power to the federal government and didn't do enough to protect individual rights.

The House of Representatives, meeting in Federal Hall on Wall Street (pictured above), actually voted in favor of 17 amendments. Once the laws reached the Senate, they were combined and rewritten into 12 amendments, which then passed to the states for ratification. On December 15, 1791 -- 225 years ago today -- Virginia became the final state to agree to ten of those twelve amendments, putting the Bill of Rights into effect.

What became of the other two amendments passed along to the states?

One, which proposed a system for ensuring that the House of Representatives was never too small -- and that bolstered the power of less populous states -- couldn't garner the votes for passage.

The other amendment, regarding congressional pay raises -- first ratified by Maryland in 1789 -- was finally approved in 1992 and became the 27th Amendment, 201 years after the rest of the Bill of Rights became the law of the land.

[Click to enlarge.]

Meanwhile, by the time the Bill of Rights had been ratified, Federal Hall was no long the seat of government. A deal between Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton at Jefferson's home on Maiden Lane moved the capital to Philadelphia in 1790 and, ultimately, to Washington DC. The Federal Hall pictured at the top was torn down in 1812 and today's Federal Hall National Memorial (originally the US Custom House, shown here under a blanket of snow during the blizzard of 1888) went up in 1842.

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At 8:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

um.. by my reading, voters and DC have repudiated all but the 3rd and that's only because the conditions covered by the 3rd haven't existed for the gummint and people to just ignore it.

So... happy birthday... and may you rest in peace.


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