Have you ever wondered where the Founding Fathers got their ideas for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? The answer is simple – laws passed by the British Parliament. Keep in mind that at the time, the colonists believed they were British citizens and entitled to the same rights as those living in the United Kingdom.
The text of The Stamp Act of 1765 and five bills that comprise the Townshend Acts passed in 1767 and 1768, and the four Coercive Acts passed in 1774, give one a clue as to why some of the clauses in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written.
The Stamp Act and Townshend Acts were primarily bills that imposed taxes on the thirteen colonies as a way of generating revenue to protect and govern the colonies. When the colonists resisted, the Royal Army was sent to enforce the law, further infuriating the colonists who had no say in Parliament.
The four Coercive Acts came in 1774 after the Boston Tea Party. Rather than find and punish the members of the group called Sons of Liberty who dumped the tea into the harbor, the British Parliament approved The Boston Port Act that closed the port and creating economic hardship for its residents.
By passing the Massachusetts Government Act, parliament revoked the colony’s charter, limited town meetings to one per year, ended the colony’s right to elect its governing council and gave the council’s powers to royal governor.
The Administration of Justice Act gave the governor broad powers to arrest and ship colonists to England for trial where the members of jury would come from citizens living in Great Britain, not the colonies. Yes, anyone brought to trial and the witnesses in their defense were to be compensated for their time in court, but considering the time involved for a trip and the support costs of bringing witnesses to wait for a trial, colonists saw this as another significant infringement on their rights as English citizens.
The last was The Quartering Act that gave the Royal Army the right to house its soldiers in unoccupied buildings or private homes and not compensate the homeowner for the added cost or wear and tear on their dwelling.
Fast forward to the Constitutional Convention that began in May 1787, four years after the Revolutionary War ended. It was convened because The Articles of Confederation passed by the Second Continental Congress were not adequate to govern the colonies. In September 1787, the Constitution was signed.
Amendment Three of the U.S. Constitution is a reaction to The Quartiering Act and specifically forbids housing of soldiers in a private home without their consent, including in time of war.
The first sentence of Amendment Six states that the “accused has the right to a public trial by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” This is a direct shot at what the British Parliament tried to impose in 1774 in The Administration of Justice Act.
Stay tuned. There’s more to come on this in future posts