The First Amendment




Our Living Shield: The First Amendment



 



The authors of the Constitution of the United States created a



magnificent list of liberties which were, at the time ascribed, to most



people belonging to the United States. The main author, James Madison,



transported the previous ideas of f undamental liberties from the great



libertarians around the world, such as John Lilburne, John Locke, William



Walwyn and John Milton. Madison and other previous libertarians of his time



were transposed into seventeen different rights which were to be secured to



all those in the United States. These seventeen civil liberties were



compressed into ten different groupings which were designated as the "Bill



of Rights." In this document lay the First Amendment which stated that the



people of the Uni ted States had the "freedom of speech, or of the press;



or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the



Government..." The First Amendment was drafted by federalist Madison mainly



as a political tactic to abolish anti-federalist resistance to the



Constitution. After its passage in December of 1791, the First Amendment



remained more idealistic than realistic. The First Amendment remained a



set of ideals which were not to be carried out during its first century,



then progressed to more realistic terms during its latter half of



utilization.



 



During the first century of the First Amendment, the First



Amendment was paid a glance by all when it came to actually carrying out



the freedoms guaranteed by this amendment. For example, in 1794,



Pennsylvanian backcountry farmers protested a whiskey tax. The protesters



were not violent such as those of the previous Shay\'s Rebellion. George



Washington sent in a militia to crush the rebellion denying them of their



First Amendment right to "peaceably assemble." Later, in 1836, anti sl



avery newspaper editor James G. Birney had been warned that his newspaper



"The Philanthropist" was not desirable in the city of Cincinatti. When



Birney refused to cooperate, mob action took rule and, "scattered the type



into the streets, tore down t he presses and completely dismantled the



office." This contradicted the First Amendment which stated that,



"freedom...of the press," is a constitutional right. The Supreme Court



could do nothing about these situations when in Barron v. Baltimore, t he



Court ruled that, "These amendments contain no expression indicating an



intention to apply them to state governments. This court cannot so apply



them." Thus, the Supreme Court could not interfere when First Amendments



are being violated within a state. These acts were representative of the



lack of recognition for our First Amendment rights during the first half of



the Bill of Right\'s acceptance.



 



The second half of the Bill of Rights was marked by a rebirth in



which the Bill of Rights was no longer a set of ideals. The second half



began when in 1925, the court ruled in Gitlow v. New York that the First



Amendment supersedes state laws . This nullified the Court\'s ruling in



Barron v. Baltimore, which took place 92 years earlier. Also, in 1931, the



Court overturned Minnesota\'s conviction of Jay M. Near, whose anti Semitic



"Saturday Press" violated Minnesota law which prohibited " malicious,



scandalous and defamatory" remarks towards politicians and other public



officials. The Court stamped Minnesota\'s law in violation of the First



amendment. In 1937, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes overturned the



conviction of Oregon Com munist Dirk De Jonge. De Jonge had been detained



for attending a meeting to protest the police shooting of striking



longshoremen. The Court ruled that "Peaceable assembly for lawful



discussion cannot be made a crime." More recently, in 1985, the S upreme



Court ruled that burning the American flag is protected by the First



Amendment when the Court reversed the conviction of Gregory Lee Johnson,



who was arrested for violation of the Flag Protection Act of 1989. The



Court then ruled the Flag Protection Act of 1989 unconstitutional. These



instances clearly portray the rebounding of libertarian beliefs.



 



The First Amendment of the Constitution started off as a set of



beliefs meant to supply reason for one being patriotic rather than supply



those inalienable rights discussed in the Declaration of Independence. It



then developed into a powerfu l document which is the only living



manuscript which specificly lists out the peoples rights. One cannot look



back without looking ahead. The supreme court currently is overwhelmingly



conservative. Without the balance of conservatism and liberalism, a



deficiency evolves. And this deficiency is human rights. The Supreme



Court ruled in 1990 that two American Indians were not protected by the



First Amendment when they religiously smoked peyote. This is only a sample



of the conservatism which wi ll eventually plague America. The Court\'s



decisions are