On the 222nd anniversary of the ratification of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, members of the Jefferson Area Libertarians gathered at the Free Speech Monument near Charlottesville's City Hall to celebrate the Bill of Rights and how it “safeguards life, liberty, and property.”
An annual event since 1998, the December 15 gathering took place under sunny skies and was sometimes punctuated by a gust of wind that toppled posters and blew scripts out of speakers' hands. Featuring an “acclamation” of the Bill of Rights, in which the whole group of participants recited the ten amendments and their more obscure preamble, the celebration also included remarks by two local Libertarian Party activists.
'Restrictions on government'
In introducing the acclamation, Jefferson Area Libertarians (JAL) chairman John Munchmeyer pointed out that the first ten amendments to the Constitution “are restrictions on government not a list of the rights of the people. Rights” he said, “do not come from a government, a king, a constitution, the Declaration of Independence, or any piece of paper.”
The meaning of declarations of rights like this, he continued, is that “as long as you do not violate others' rights, you may live your life as you see fit without interference from government. The power of the state is subservient to the rights of the individual. This is the key that made this country different; it's what makes these United States of America special.”
Dr. Hallee Morgan, treasurer of the JAL, expressed surprise that the Founders even had do debate whether to add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.
Today, she said, the Bill of Rights “seems like something that's just so important and so basic that one would think they wouldn't be able to debate about it” but rather that they would simply adopt it as something unquestionably proper.
Morgan noted that what the Founders “were most afraid of then was the power of the federal government,” which is also “one of the biggest problems that we have right at the moment.” The federal government, she added, “”take more than the Bill of Rights allows, consistently.”
Today's lawmakers “have too much power. They have a great deal more, certainly, than was intended by our forefathers.”
'Right to be left alone'
Morgan reflected on the definition of rights by noting that “existentialists would say that the natural law is the right to exist. Then of course there was Emerson, who said it was just the right to be left alone, which I can certainly sympathize with.”
Under natural law, she said, “we have the right to be free, the right to be free from coercion, to be free from servitude; the right to think, the right to create, the right to love; the right to defend yourself and defend others – any of your loved ones.”
Concluding her remarks, Morgan said that she is “really frightened by the future of the United States, mainly because we're getting so far away from the Constitution. The president, lawmakers, and judges are just roundly ignoring it.”
Munchmeyer followed up by showing how the original concept of the U.S. government has been “turned upside down.”
The Founders, he said, “formed the federal government to take care of specific enumerated functions like national defense, but the purpose of the government was still exclusively to safeguard life, liberty, and property and stay out of everything else.”
'Tentacles of bureaucracy'
Over the past 150 years, he lamented, “the whole thing has been turned on its head and now the servant has become the master. We have a national government that lords over the states and also lords directly over the individual, forcing us to do its bidding.”
Pointing out the expansiveness of the federal government today, Munchmeyer added that “it is difficult to name one aspect of our lives the tentacles of the national bureaucracy do not reach. Most of that intervention has resulted in making things worse [while] creating new, unforeseen side effects.”
Trying to end on an upbeat note, the JAL chairman said that gatherings like this one on Charlottesville's downtown mall demonstrate that people still have concern for their government and are willing to protest overreach on matters like NSA spying, Obamacare, and unbridled regulations. He optimistically closed his remarks by wishing the crowd a merry Christmas.