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.