Today in history: James Madison introduces ‘the great rights of mankind’
Today is a significant day in the annals of American history and culture. It matters to anyone concerned with First Amendment freedoms, too. Why? Because on June 8, 1789, U.S. Rep. James Madison from Virginia introduced a list of proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution in the House of Representatives.
Madison told his colleagues that amending the Constitution to provide for the protection of certain rights would help “to satisfy the public mind that their liberties will be perpetual.” He added that Congress should “expressly declare the great rights of mankind secured under this constitution.”
These “great rights of mankind” — not all of which were adopted — came to be known as the Bill of Rights.
Madison proposed that these amendments be added into the body of the Constitution. We know that’s not where they ended up, as they were placed at the end of the document. What later became known as the First Amendment was not Madison’s original version either. It wasn’t even his “first” amendment.
Madison proposed on June 8 the following freedoms that later became the First Amendment:
“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.
“The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.
“The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor from applying to the legislature by petitions, or remonstrances for redress of their grievances.”
Although Madison’s proposal differs greatly from the eventual 45 words of the First Amendment, he earned his moniker as the “Father of the Bill of Rights.” Take time today to reflect on the importance of the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights. What those 10 amendments protect truly are “the great rights of mankind.”