“TO INSURE THE RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE”
by Michael Gaddy, ©2015, blogging at The Rebel Madman
A group of our founders, those incorrectly labeled as Anti-federalists, fought long and hard throughout the ratification process in several state conventions to provide the people the tools necessary to insure and sustain their individual rights and freedom. The two things those founders were unable to supply was the two most important things required to secure the blessings of liberty: knowledge and courage. Without those two items, efforts toward individual freedom will never be successful.
When it comes to knowledge, the people must be aware of the tools provided by our founders, where they are to be found, and how they must be used. Courage is vital in this endeavor. Governments constantly seek to grow stronger and bigger, always at the expense of individual freedom. These governments must therefore put rules, laws and other impediments in the path of those who wish to limit that government to its constitutional role in society.
“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yeild and government to gain ground.” ~ Thomas Jefferson (Throughout many of Jefferson’s writings he spelled yield—yeild. I have written the quote in Jefferson’s own words for accuracy.)
One of the tools fought for by the Anti-federalists was the jury, both Petit and Grand. These are vital tools in the pursuit of liberty, but have been commandeered and perverted by the judicial branch of government in order to promote the government’s agenda and to insure it “gains ground” over the rights of the people. These perversions have, in many cases, been instituted by those in the legal profession, most notably the American Bar Association.
The Anti-federalists intended for the people to be the final arbiters of all government actions, including regulations and laws. They had the vision to see into the future because of their knowledge of the past. To insure the rights of the people, the jury system was argued for, especially in the Virginia Ratification Convention. This group of founders knew that eventually government would intentionally stray outside of its constitutional boundaries, just as Jefferson spoke of, and they sought to provide the tools necessary to reign in the government when it moved in an unconstitutional direction.
The Anti-federalists knew that history was more than something you read today and forget tomorrow; they were very knowledgeable about the Magna Carta and the fact it was the first English constitutional document and was granted by King John in 1215 because it was demanded by his subjects. Thus, they were familiar with the Grand Jury and the power granted to citizens to investigate crimes in their own community, especially the crimes of those in power.
A prime function of a Grand Jury is to protect the citizens from government overreach and malicious prosecution. The first such recorded act of a Grand Jury involved the Duke of Shaftasbury in 1681. The Crown sought an indictment for treason against the Duke and asked the Grand Jury for an indictment. After calling witnesses, the Grand Jury voted against a bill of indictment, defying the allegations of the Crown.
Those who settled the original colonies brought the concept of the Grand Jury with them and employed that entity before the Revolutionary War. In 1733, the sitting colonial governor of New York (William Cosby) brought formal charges of seditious libel against John Zenger, editor of a newspaper known as “The Weekly Journal.” In this paper Zenger held the Royal Governor up to public ridicule. The Grand Jury refused to return an indictment.
Thwarted by the Grand Jury, Governor Cosby bypassed them and had Zenger charged again with sedition. This time he used his authority to have a bond for Zenger placed at a level he knew would keep Zenger imprisoned until his trial. Fortunately for Zenger, and liberty, the petit or trial jury went outside of the commands of those in authority. Zenger’s legal counsel unsuccessfully tried to have the charges dismissed citing the judges assigned to the case “served at the pleasure of the Governor” and were therefore biased. (Any of this sound relevant to our country’s issues today?)
Zenger’s counsel, Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia, when addressing the jury in Zenger’s case said the following:
“The question before the Court and you, Gentlemen of the jury, is not of small or private concern. It is not the cause of one poor printer, nor of New York alone, which you are now trying. No! It may in its consequence affect every free man that lives under a British government on the main of America. It is the best cause. It is the cause of liberty.”
Zenger was acquitted by a knowledgeable and courageous jury.
This established very early in this country’s history that those in power who seek to use their authority for nefarious purposes will always consider criticism as sedition. John Adams did it within 10 years of the advent of the present Constitution; Woodrow Wilson did it with the Sedition Act of 1918, which is still being used almost 100 years later to oppose those who would criticize unconstitutional acts of government. This further adds weight to my preferred axiom that those who most ardently seek positions of power or authority over others are those who least deserve it and will most likely abuse it.
The Grand Jury is not mentioned in the Constitution but is listed in the Bill of Rights (5th Amendment), which means the GJ is a power vested in the people and is not under the dominion or control of the government, although like so many other freedoms, this has been perverted to government use as was vividly evident in the case of the police officer (Darren Wilson) charged in the shooting death in Ferguson, Missouri. (Mine is not a defense of the person shot or the officer involved, but an indictment of the misuse of the GJ by the District Attorney in the case.)
Of course, to get to this point, a great number of people must be educated as to their rights and responsibilities when they find themselves on a jury, be it petit or grand. This would also require the courage to assert the authority of those juries even in the face of judicial reprimand and public criticism. Thus, knowledge and courage are the primary requirements of liberty and are another most important answer to those who seek solutions to the mess this country is in.
(Author’s note: I will follow up on this Rant with a prime example of how the ignorance of those on a Grand Jury as to the powers they possess led to perhaps one of the greatest travesties in our country, just under 20 years ago.)
In Rightful Liberty