Uses of a Bill of Rights

The Twelve Points are a statement of conservative principles, objectives, philosophy, and additional guiding considerations, composed by Karl Born, a young Indianapolis writer and attorney, beginning in early 2008, completed on July 2, 2009.

The purpose of the Twelve Points is to serve as a delivery mechanism for distilled, concentrated conservative thinking, with the goal of returning clarity and completeness to popular conservatism, and spreading knowledge of the true principles of conservatism throughout the conservative community.

The idea for the Twelve Points, along with much of the content of the document itself, came from the "Seven Points," which was created by a group of conservative college students in 2003 at Indiana University: Grand Old Cause.

Even in light of the 2010 election results, the conservative movement has become confused and aimless. Certain essential conservative principles and considerations have faded from memory and lost their influence. The Twelve Points will help to solve this problem by reminding us of conservative thinking that we may not have considered recently, and by making that thinking available to new, developing conservatives.

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On the uses of a bill of rights

In a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1788, James Madison wrote that he supported the creation of a federal bill of rights, even though he doubted its potential to effectively restrain a democratically-elected government.  As reasons for this support, he stated two advantages that he believed a bill of rights would offer -- advantages that may be easy for Americans alive today to overlook:

"What use then it may be asked can a bill of rights serve in popular Governments?  I answer the two following which though less essential than in other Governments, sufficiently recommend the precaution. 1. The political truths declared in that solemn manner acquire by degrees the character of fundamental maxims of free Government, and as they become incorporated with the national sentiment, counteract the impulses of interest and passion. 2. Altho' it be generally true as above stated that the danger of oppression lies in the interested majorities of the people rather than in usurped acts of the Government, yet there may be occasions on which the evil may spring from the latter source; and on such, a bill of rights will be a good ground for an appeal to the sense of the community.  Perhaps too there may be a certain degree of danger, that a succession of artful and ambitious rulers, may by gradual & well-timed advances, finally erect an independent Government on the subversion of liberty.  Should this danger exist at all, it is prudent to guard against it, especially when the precaution can do no injury."

These benefits are easy to overlook, as I wrote above, because we are now so used to most of the Bill of Rights being legally enforceable and enforced (as it should be, but which Madison did not think could be expected) that it is surprising that Madison would have been more interested in the influence that the Bill of Rights might ultimately have on the political process than in its potential enforceability in the courts.

Make no mistake -- it is important that the Bill of Rights is enforceable, as it was meant to be.  As someone who happens to like the U.S. Constitution, however, I am fascinated by the idea that the Bill of Rights was intended to have such an important role outside of the legal system.