We all know how pathetic it can look when people mindlessly parrot cliches without understanding what they truly believe. To see that in action, look no further than Occupy Wall Street:
When these folks just repeat their slogans about “corporate greed” and being “for the people” but can’t give a coherent explanation of what that means they look foolish and hurt their cause.
That’s why you and I, as defenders of the Constitution, have to make sure we’re better than that. Now before you freak out on me, relax. I’m not comparing you to the Occupy people, that was just an illustration.
With that said, as I travel around speaking I often hear well-intentioned conservatives and libertarians repeating cliches about the Constitution that just aren’t true. Recently I heard two conservative radio hosts who were discussing freedom of speech insist that:
“The Founders put the First Amendment first because it was the most important. Clearly there was a design here.”
That sounds fantastic. But as I explained last week on The Chris Salcedo Show, there are two slight problems with it. The Founding Fathers didn’t necessarily believe that the First Amendment was the most important… and it wasn’t first:
Again, the First Amendment wasn’t first. It was third.
When Congress proposed the Bill of Rights to the states in 1789, it initially sent them a list of 12 amendments. There were two amendments on that list that were ahead of what we now call the First Amendment that weren’t immediately ratified.
So what thrilling protections did the founders have to get to before the Freedom of Speech and the Freedom of Religion? This one about Congressional districts:
“Article the first... After the first enumeration required by the first Article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which, the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.”
And this one about Congressional pay (that was actually ratified in 1992 and is now the 27th Amendment):
"Article the second... No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened."
So the idea that the First Amendment was somehow “first” is untrue. And if reading the two amendments that did come first and second isn’t enough to convince you that the Bill of Rights wasn’t organized in order of importance, let’s look a little further.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
When the states ratified the Constitution, many of them chose to include lists of amendments that they wanted the first Congress to consider. And in just about all of those lists, the very first amendment proposed was what we now call the 10th Amendment.
For example, the first amendment suggested by the New Hampshire ratifying conventions was this:
“First, That it be Explicitly declared that all Powers not expressly & particularly Delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are reserved to the several States to be, by them Exercised.”
So if any of the amendments were going to be considered the “most important,” an argument could be made that it would be the 10th Amendment, not the First Amendment. The First Amendment doesn’t appear first on any of the states’ lists. In fact, a couple of states didn’t include a version of the First Amendment at all!
None of this is intended to diminish the importance of the First Amendment. Obviously it is critical to protecting some of our most fundamental rights and we need to do all that we can to defend it. But it is simply inaccurate to say that the First Amendment was listed first in the Bill of Rights because it was most important.
The truth is the most effective weapon we have in defending the Constitution. That’s why we need to do all we can to make sure that everything we say is grounded in facts. If we commit ourselves to speaking the truth loud enough and long enough, eventually we will be successful in preserving our freedom.
Chad Kent is an author and speaker with a unique style that makes the Constitution simple and fun. Listen to Chad every Saturday during The Chris Salcedo Show on TheBlaze Radio and visit his web site at www.ChadKentSpeaks.com.
TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.