Our First Amendment Wasn’t Always First

Our First Amendment Wasn't Always First

(TruthandLiberty.com) – When Americans bring up the Constitution, they typically refer to the Bill of Rights — the first 10 amendments to that foundational document. As guarantees of personal liberties, many think of the First Amendment as the most important of those rights because the Founding Fathers placed it at the head of the list.

It makes sense, right? Well, a quick review of history tells a different story. Let’s proceed, shall we?

Time for a Constitution

The Battle of Yorktown effectively ended the Revolutionary War with more than 7,000 British troops surrendering to the Continental Army in October 1781. The war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. George Washington retired from his military command to his beloved Mount Vernon to resume his life as a gentleman farmer.

However, by 1787 the unity between the 13 states started falling apart, and Washington returned to government service, heading up the Constitutional Committee in Philadelphia to form a new government.

The resulting Constitution was ratified in September 1787. But the absence of a Bill of Rights was a sticking point, and various conventions to ratify the Constitution resulted in more than 200 proposed amendments.

The Original Third Became the New First

James Madison, the US Representative from Virginia in the First Federal Congress, narrowed the number of proposed amendments to 17 and sent them to the Senate. After some wrangling, the House and Senate agreed upon a bill of rights containing 12 amendments.

Congress referred the matter to the states for ratification. Virginia cast the final vote ratifying the 3rd through the 12th amendments in December 1791, and the Bill of Rights became a reality.

The original first amendment, outlining the allocation of representation in the House, was never passed. The original second amendment, dealing with Congressional salaries, wasn’t ratified until more than 100 years later, in 1992. Because those amendments failed to pass, the original Third Amendment became the current First; the Fourth became the second, and so on.

The Constitution currently includes 27 amendments, but perhaps the first 10 are the most important for guaranteeing individual freedoms. The First Amendment protects some of the nation’s most precious rights — speech, religion, assembly, the press, and the right to petition the government. Seems like the most important one ended up first after all — even if it wasn’t planned that way.

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