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, antiÄ 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 antiÄ 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